Committee Passes Chabot, Conyers Bill Encouraging Foreign Countries to Lend Cultural Works to American Museums
Washington, DC, February 28, 2012
Today the House Judiciary Committee passed by unanimous voice vote, H.R. 4086, “Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act.” The bill immunizes foreign states from lawsuits that seek damages for artwork that is already immune from seizure pursuant to a presidential determination when the work is in the U.S. for temporary exhibition. H.R. 4086 makes Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA) consistent with the aims of the Immunity From Seizure Act (IFSA).
Congress passed IFSA in 1965 during the height of the Cold War to encourage the Soviet Union to lend its artwork and other cultural property to American museums and educational institutions for the cultural and educational benefit of the American people without fear that it would be seized. H.R. 4086 is necessary in the wake of the decision in Malewicz v. City of Amsterdam, in which U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia broadened the scope of the FSIA expropriation exception to the point where it undermined exchange between American historical and cultural institutions and their foreign counterparts.
Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich), an original co-sponsor of the bill, made the following statement upon the bill’s passage:
“This bill will make it easier for American museums and other cultural institutions to arrange exhibits of foreign cultural property to the cultural and educational benefit of the American people,” said Conyers. “According to a letter urging my support for this bill that I received from Graham W.J. Beal, Director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, both the Russian and Czech governments are currently refusing to lend works of art to American museums in the wake of this court decision.
“H.R. 4086 resolves the inconsistency between the IFSA and the FSIA created by the Malewicz decision by ensuring that any work that the President has immunized from seizure pursuant to IFSA will also immunize the foreign government owner of that work from a suit for damages under FSIA.”
“We recognized then, and continue to recognize now, that as a general matter, the benefits of the cultural exchange fostered by temporary exhibits or displays of artwork outweigh the provision of a U.S. forum for disputes about the ownership of cultural property that is held by a foreign government.
“We as a people and a nation benefit from the cultural exchanges fostered by laws such as H.R. 4086. Cultural exchanges create understanding of and appreciation for foreign cultures, decreases xenophobia and prejudice, and perhaps even creates some diplomatic benefit in fostering mutual respect between our nation and others.”