Remarks Upon the Signing of a Bilateral Agreement on Libyan Cultural Property

I. Steven (Steve) Goldstein
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs 
The Treaty Room,
Washington, DC
February 23, 2018

As Prepared for Delivery

It is my great pleasure to welcome Under Secretary Almughrabi and Ambassador Boughaighis on this very important occasion. As Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, I am delighted to sign an agreement today that solidifies U.S. and Libyan joint collaboration to combat looting and trafficking of cultural objects originating from Libya. Today’s agreement is a testament to our shared commitment to protect Libya’s cultural heritage and, more broadly, to the full support of the United States for the Government of National Accord’s efforts to build a more stable, unified Libyan state.

Libya has served as a crossroads of multiple civilizations, each of which has left its mark on the country and on world history. There is, however, a long history of threats to archaeological and historic sites in Libya, and since the 2011 revolution, these threats have only increased. The destruction of any of this history and culture is devastating.

We have documented looting at archaeological sites in Libya, some of which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, and hundreds more remain in jeopardy from pillage and trafficking of their priceless antiquities

Cultural property trafficking is a problem not just in Libya but also throughout the Middle East and North Africa. As we have seen in Iraq, Syria, and neighboring Egypt, the pillage of archaeological and historical sites and the sale of antiquities and other cultural objects on the international market has bolstered the revenues of transnational organized criminal and terrorist groups. Heritage sites that are hundreds and thousands of years old, a record of civilization over time, are rapidly being destroyed for financial gain. In the spirit of our close security partnership, the United States and Libya are committed to denying terrorists and transnational criminal groups access to this funding stream.

The United States has been unwavering in its commitment to protect and preserve cultural heritage around the world and to prevent trafficking in cultural property that funds criminal and terrorism networks. Our policy is clear: the unlawful destruction of cultural heritage and the trafficking of cultural property are unacceptable.

The goals of cultural property agreements are 1) to reduce the incentive to pillage, 2) to help countries protect their cultural heritage, and 3) increase lawful access to cultural objects and awareness of world heritage by encouraging interchange of materials for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes.

The agreement we are here to sign today is the 17th cultural property agreement the United States has concluded with countries around the world facing threats to their heritage from pillage. Today’s agreement demonstrates the joint commitment of the United States and Libya to ensuring that Libya’s heritage – of which Libyans are justifiably proud – will be protected and accessible for future generations to enjoy and appreciate.

The United States is committed to supporting the Libyan people’s efforts to build a more stable, unified, and prosperous future. Today’s cultural preservation agreement is an important contribution to these efforts. The international community is helping Libyans build a unified national government capable of safeguarding Libya’s resources – including its cultural resources – for the benefit of all Libyans.

There are many to thank for bringing this agreement to fruition: Our greatest thanks go to Under Secretary Almughrabi, Ambassador Boughaighis, and the many dedicated Libyan officials and experts who have worked so closely with us to make this agreement a reality.

I also want to commend the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, the Cultural Heritage Center in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the President’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee, and our colleagues at Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Justice, and the Department of the Treasury for their efforts in concluding this agreement.

And now, I am pleased to turn the podium over to Under Secretary Almughrabi.