The Latest

U.S. Government Imposes Emergency Import Restrictions on Yemeni Antiquities

February 28, 2020

From NPR: “In Yemen, thousands of civilians have been killed, but in the backdrop of this bloodshed and destruction is another tragedy: the looting of the country’s history. Its precious antiquities plundered by criminals and violent extremists.” (Image Credit: Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. Government announced earlier this month that it would impose “emergency import restrictions on certain archaeological and ethnological material from the Republic of Yemen”—a major victory for both the country’s cultural heritage and its people.

In accordance with the U.S. Cultural Property Implementation Act, these new regulations, which went into effect on February 5, require those importing at-risk Yemeni cultural material into the United States to provide proof that it left the country before that date or legally after it.

Yemen officially requested such emergency import restrictions as well as a full memorandum of understanding with the United States in September 2019, shortly after gaining the eligibility to do so by becoming a State Party to the main international treaty to combat cultural racketeering, the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

MOUs and emergency import restrictions provide similar protections, but emergency import restrictions are relatively temporary. If not renewed, the regulations at hand are set to expire in September 2024.

While MOUs may be more permanent than emergency import restrictions, they take more time to solidify. The implementation of emergency import restrictions can help countries in crisis defend their antiquities from criminals while they work on attaining full bilateral MOUs.

In Yemen’s case, the bitter civil war between Houthi rebels and Yemeni forces has made it easier than ever for thieves to loot archaeological sites and pillage museums. These criminals have stripped the country of countless priceless artifacts, more than 1,500 of which appear in a report released by the Antiquities Coalition and Yemen in March 2019.

Ambassador Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak from the Republic of Yemen and Antiquities Coalition Chairman and Founder Deborah Lehr called attention to this dilemma in a January 2019 Washington Post op-ed, urging the Treasury Department to “issue an emergency executive order adding Yemeni antiquities to the list of sanctioned items prevented from import to the United States.”

With these emergency import restrictions, the United States has taken similar action, and in the process closed the world’s largest art market to conflict antiquities.

We commend both the U.S. State Department and the Republic of Yemen on this important step.