United States and Morocco Strengthen Joint Fight Against Cultural Racketeering
January 14, 2021
The Antiquities Coalition applauds the United States and Morocco for taking a major step to fortify their diplomatic relationship, while battling against the global crisis of cultural racketeering, the illicit trade in art and antiquities.
Today, the U.S. Ambassador to Morocco David T. Fischer and Moroccan Minister of Culture Othmane El Fardaous signed a bilateral agreement in the capital of Rabat, with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Marie Royce participating virtually from Washington, D.C.
This memorandum of understanding (MOU) will close U.S. borders to illicit artifacts from Morocco. The legal trade will not be impacted. The MOU thus seeks not only to prevent Morocco’s priceless cultural patrimony from falling into the hands of bad actors, but also to protect good faith purchasers in the United States from unwittingly buying stolen property, ensuring the legitimacy of the U.S. art market and museum community. Moreover, the agreement commits both governments to a mutually beneficial partnership, including law enforcement cooperation and responsible cultural exchange. Taken together, these measures will crack down on the illegal market in art and antiquities from North Africa, while ensuring that Americans still have access to the region’s arts and culture through traveling exhibitions, museum loans, and research projects.
“The Kingdom of Morocco is home to a significant cultural heritage documenting human history, beginning with the discovery of the oldest known remains of Homo sapiens, dating from antiquity, to the rich heritage of the Islamic period,” Morocco noted in its request to the United States for import restrictions pursuant to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, to which Morocco became a State Party back in 2003. “For quite some time, Morocco’s movable heritage has been the target of crimes that violate the ownership and integrity of major national sites and monuments.”
Under the United States’s 1983 Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCPIA), any State Party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention can request that the United States restrict importation of its archaeological and ethnological material, absent proof the objects left the country legally. Art and artifacts that are legally exported—or, unfortunately, even those that were illegally exported before restrictions go into effect—are not impacted (though they may be protected by other U.S. law). The U.S. Department of State’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee reviewed Morocco’s request in October 2019, alongside a request from Yemen.
With today’s signing, the United States now has agreements with a growing number of countries in the Maghreb, including Egypt (2016), Libya (2018), and Algeria (2019)—demonstrating the region’s desire to work with international partners to fight cultural racketeering, while also sharing their rich heritage with the world.
About the Antiquities Coalition
The Antiquities Coalition unites a diverse group of experts in the fight against cultural racketeering: the illicit trade in antiquities by organized criminals and terrorist organizations. This plunder for profit funds crime and conflict around the world—erasing our past and threatening our future. The Coalition’s innovative and practical solutions tackle crimes against heritage head on, empowering communities and countries in crisis. Learn more at theantiquitiescoalition.org.