U.S. Department of State Eric Catalfamo, Director of Cultural Heritage Center in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

SIEM REAP:  September 6, 2022, The United States has been a leader in cultural heritage protection and preservation for decades. Our contributions to cultural preservation in ASEAN member states have been robust: $8.1 million for 96 projects since 2001.

In 2004, in response to the threats to cultural heritage in Iraq, we created a task force to work across our federal agencies to ensure that the full breadth of the U.S. government – from law enforcement agencies to our national arts organizations and the Smithsonian Institution – collaborate effectively to protect heritage from damage and destruction.

Through this whole-of-government approach, we have successfully repatriated more than 20,000 pieces of cultural property to more than 45 countries since the Task Force was established – including ASEAN member states.

Combatting cultural objects’ looting, theft, and trafficking is essential for the United States. We are unwavessentialour commitment to protecting and preserving cultural heritage around the world. Our policy is clear: The unlawful destruction of cultural heritage and the trafficking of cultural property are unacceptable.

Reports indicate that cultural property crime has thrived throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Looting and trafficking from archaeological sites, libraries, museums, and religious and cultural institutions have remained steady and even increased in some countries and regions.

Cultural property agreements with the United States provide a framework for international collaboration. They help countries protect their cultural heritage and encourage the legal exchange of cultural property for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes.

Cultural property agreements establish U.S. import restrictions on cultural property.  Import restrictions prevent looted objects from entering the United States and make it difficult for criminals to profit from selling trafficked cultural property in the U.S. art market.

These bilateral agreements also make it easier for the United States to return looted and trafficked cultural property to its country of origin.

Throughout this conference, you’ve heard from many speakers across the United States. This whole government exemplifies how we work together to implement cultural property agreements and honor our international commitments to protect cultural heritage.

In countries with agreements, we work together on programs that build capacity, strengthen site protection, enhance inventories, build professional networks, engage communities, and promote the temporary and long-term exchange of cultural property.

The United States welcomes requests for cultural property agreements from ASEAN member countries and the closer collaboration these agreements bring.

History of Bilateral Relationship with Cambodia: The United States deeply values and admires Cambodia’s rich cultural heritage. The United States and Cambodia first signed a cultural property agreement in 2003. Together, we’ve worked for over 20 years to protect, preserve, and honor Cambodia’s heritage with Cambodian partners, American academic institutions, and nonprofit organizations.

On September 19, 2003, the Government of the United States and the Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia entered into a cultural property agreement that imposed import restrictions on Khmer archaeological material. This agreement allowed the United States to continue import restrictions established as an emergency in December 1999.

The agreement was extended for five years in September 2008 and amended to include archaeological material dating from the Bronze Age through the Khmer Era.  The contract was raised again in September 2013 and 2018.

We’ve also supported law enforcement training and cultural property protection projects through the U.S. Cultural Antiquities Task Force to support the agreements. We recently endorsed collection inventories in six provincial museums, and we’ll host a cultural heritage site security workshop for site managers and investigators in Cambodia next February.

 In addition to cultural property protection, the United States also works to preserve cultural heritage. We have contributed over $5 million to implement 26 preservation projects in Cambodia through the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation. In July, the Fund awarded an additional $361,000 to continue conservation work at the Temple of Preah Vihear.

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