Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act

Floor Speech

By:  Howard Berman
Date: March 19, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. BERMAN. Madam Speaker, this bill arises from a tension between a 1963 statute providing foreign art collectors immunity from seizure and the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. It specifically stems from a 2007 court decision that broadened the expropriation exemption under the FSIA and allowed for suits on artwork already immunized under the 1963 law. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and other museums have made clear to me the chilling effect of that decision on artistic exchanges.

This bill resolves the inconsistency between the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and the 1963 statute and protects critical cultural exchanges. Specifically, the bill would clarify that foreign states are immune from lawsuits that seek damages for artwork that may already be immune from seizure pursuant to a Presidential determination.

I support this bill for several reasons:

First, cultural and artistic exchanges are a powerful form of democracy that foster mutual understanding, and this bill would remove obstacles to such exchanges;

Second, the bill is narrowly crafted. It provides sovereign immunity only in cases in which the President already immunized the artwork in question;

Third, H.R. 4086 includes an exception for Nazi-era claims. This carve-out is consistent with longstanding American policy to seek restitution when possible for victims of the Nazi government, its allied governments and its affiliated governments.

I urge my colleagues to support the bill, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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