HARP 5 December 2016
Ori Z. Soltes, Chair of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project (“HARP”), announced the publication of a study jointly issued by HARP and the Ciric Law Firm, PLLC, which concludes that the U.S. State Department is structurally unable and ill-equipped to perform appropriate provenance research on immunity from seizure applications submitted by foreign museums.
The study (available at http://plundered-art.blogspot.com/2016/12/the-us-department-of-state-is.html), concludes research initiated in In 2014 by HARP, which investigated the U.S. State Department’s ability to perform appropriate provenance research on immunity from seizure requests submitted by foreign museums in accordance with the Immunity from Judicial Seizure statute, 22 U.S. § 2459 (IFSA). To accomplish this research, HARP submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the State Department. Following the State Department’s response, HARP analyzed the State Department’s provenance research process and its procedures for determining the soundness of the borrowing institutions’ applications to immunize objects coming from foreign lenders’ collections.
Based on the FOIA response, the study concludes that the immunization from judicial seizure process relies almost exclusively on attestations made by the lenders, the country desk officers, and the unit of the State Department which certifies cultural significance. Furthermore, HARP concludes that the State Department is unable to challenge the certifications made by the borrowers.
If the Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act (S. 3155) becomes law, the systemic inability of the State Department to ensure that the applicant certification is properly supported or documented would create a significant risk for stolen artworks to come into the country through temporary exhibits.
“The State Department’s structural inability to perform appropriate due diligence on incoming exhibits should sound as a warning to everyone, especially to the Senate, which is currently considering S. 3155, that the inadequate administrative process managed by the State Department, combined with a terrible bill which purpose is to completely immunize incoming art exhibits from any claim in the U.S. will create a safe haven for looted cultural property in this country, and will trample the rights of untold numbers of victims of looting by totalitarian regimes, such as Russia or Cuba,” said Soltes.
HARP is a not-for-profit group based in Washington, DC, dedicated to the identification and restitution of looted artworks requiring detailed research and analysis of public and private archives in North America. HARP has worked for 18 years on the restitution of artworks looted by the Nazi regime.