Press Releases

House Passes Chabot-Conyers Bill Encouraging Foreign Countries to Lend Cultural Works to American Museums

Washington, DC, March 19, 2012

Today, the House of Representatives passed by voice vote H.R. 4086, the “Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act.”  The bill is a necessary legislative fix 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 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA) expropriation exception to the point where it undermined exchange between American historical and cultural institutions and their foreign counterparts.  H.R. 4086  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 and makes FSIA consistent with the aims of the Immunity From Seizure Act (IFSA).  In February, the bill passed the House Judiciary Committee by unanimous voice vote.

Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), an original cosponsor, released this statement following the House’s action:

“One of the most important forms of diplomatic contact occurs not in embassies in Washington, but in museums all across the country,” said Conyers.  “Cultural exchanges of artwork and other cultural property creates understanding between Americans and the rest of the world, decreases xenophobia and prejudice, and fosters mutual respect between the United States and other nations.  The recent decision in Malewicz v. City of Amsterdam undermined this form of cultural diplomacy by creating so much uncertainty that foreign institutions became afraid to loan their cultural property.  For example, in my district, the Russian and Czech governments refused to lend works of art to the Detroit Institute of Arts for fear that their works might be seized or their cultural institutions be held liable under U.S. law.

“But H.R. 4086 is also a narrowly tailored bill that fosters cultural exchange but still preserves important legal prerogatives.  The bill does not cover every possible claim concerning the ownership of artwork owned by a foreign government.  For instance, the expropriation exception could be available for any claim concerning works that have not received immunity from seizure under IFSA.  Similarly, the expropriation exception remains available for a work that is not in the United States on temporary exhibit or display pursuant to an agreement. H.R. 4086 also makes an exception for Nazi-era claims.  This carve-out is consonant with another longstanding American policy, which is to seek restitution when possible for victims of the Nazi government, its allied governments, and its affiliated governments.

“H.R. 4086 is an important and necessary bill that reaffirms the original goals of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and Immunity From Seizure Act by clarifying inconsistency in U.S. law created by the Maelwicz decision. We have worked closely with the Obama Administration to make certain the bill incorporates input from the Department of State.  This bill will once again make U.S. law inviting to exchanges between American historical and cultural institutions and their foreign counterparts to the educational benefit of our Nation’s public.”