United States and Cambodia Celebrate Cultural Property Agreement and New Preservation Project

November 9, 2018

U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia William A. Heidt and Cambodia’s Minister of Culture, Her Excellency Phoeung Sackona, signed a joint statement recognizing the recent extension of the cultural property agreement between the United States and Cambodia during a ceremony on November 6, 2018 at the National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh. The agreement, also called a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), between the U.S. government and the Royal Government of Cambodia allows for the restriction on U.S. imports of certain categories of Cambodian archaeological material for five additional years, until 2023.

Since first entering into an MOU in 2003, the United States and Cambodia have partnered to reduce the threat of pillaging and trafficking of irreplaceable artifacts representing Cambodia’s centuries-old cultural heritage. For example, multiple domestic and regional law enforcement trainings have increased the capacity of Cambodian heritage police and site managers to protect archaeological sites and work with neighboring countries on cross-border trafficking. Tools and public education campaigns developed by U.S. and Cambodian heritage experts have heightened awareness of the MOU and the importance of preserving Cambodia’s national patrimony.

“This MOU has a very technical name, but it is intended to reduce incentive for the pillage of irreplaceable archaeological material representing Cambodia’s rich cultural heritage,” said Ambassador Heidt. “In simpler terms, it discourages looting, and ensures that looted artifacts are returned to Cambodia.”

Also on November 6, the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh announced a new Ambassadors Fund project to conserve the Northern Staircase at the 11th-century Temple of Preah Vihear, one of Cambodia’s premier UNESCO World Heritage sites. The project includes a number of emergency measures to address extensive erosion and destabilization of the temple’s monumental masonry staircase.

“This work is important,” Ambassador Heidt said. “For the United States, it helps demonstrate the value we place on your heritage and our friendship. For Cambodia, it preserves cultural sites and objects that have historical significance, while also helping Cambodian archaeologists and workers gain the skills they need to continue preserving your nation’s rich heritage.”

U.S. support for cultural heritage projects overseas through the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation yields many positive and lasting benefits. Such support contributes towards post-disaster and post-conflict recovery efforts in some of the world’s most desperate communities. It satisfies U.S. treaty and other bilateral obligations and creates opportunities for economic development where long-term high unemployment and extreme poverty are the norm. In strife-ridden states especially, it counters extremist interpretations of U.S. interests and demonstrates American values in action.