Cultural Property Advisory Committee and Cultural Property Agreements
U.S. efforts to protect and preserve cultural heritage through cultural property agreements promote stability, economic development, and good governance in other countries, while denying critical financing to terrorist organizations and other criminal networks that engage in illicit trade.
As a State Party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, the United States strives to protect and preserve cultural property from threats of pillage and trafficking. The Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA), 19 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2613, implements the United States’ obligations under the 1970 UNESCO Convention, either through emergency actions or bilateral cultural property agreements (typically framed as Memoranda of Understanding). In collaboration with partner countries, certain categories of cultural property are designated by the U.S. government as important to archaeology, prehistory, history, literature, art, or science. These include archaeological objects (e.g., antiquities, historical monuments) and ethnological objects (e.g., rare manuscripts, items used in rituals).
In essence, cultural property agreements are tools for preventing illicit activity. In some countries, it is unlawful to excavate, remove, or export cultural objects without a permit. Once a bilateral agreement is in place and corresponding import restrictions have been imposed, importation of designated objects into the United States is prohibited except under limited circumstances. The goal of such an agreement is to protect cultural heritage by reducing the incentive for further pillage of archaeological and ethnological material.