August 2, 2012, Washington, D.C. - The Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) is pleased to report that final version of Iran sanctions legislation passed by the 112th Congress will not impact the pending litigation over Persian artifacts studied by University of Chicago researchers for decades. At the urging of PAAIA and the University of Chicago, Senator Robert Menendez clarified the language of his amendment to the Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Human Rights Act of 2012 (S.2101), making clearer its focus on certain financial assets of Iran.
In a lawsuit pending before a United States federal court, plaintiffs are seeking to obtain custody over, among other things, the Persepolis tablets at the University of Chicago as compensation for injuries sustained during a 1997 terrorist bombing in Jerusalem. The lawsuit serves as the intersection of victims’ rights, international law, state ownership of property, cultural heritage and diplomatic matters. The initial Menendez-Brown amendment was unanimously approved by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs earlier in February of 2012. While the amendment’s clear intent was to help enforce judgments against Iran for family members and surviving victims of the 1983 Beirut bombings using frozen Iranian financial assets being held by Citibank, PAAIA was concerned about the potential unintended consequences the amendment could have in the ongoing litigation over the Persepolis tablets and artifacts from Chogha Mish.
The amendment, as it was initially written, had the potential to strip cultural property of its legal protections under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) by declaring all Iranian property in the U.S. as “commercial property.” Accordingly, PAAIA contacted Senator Menendez and strongly urged him to ensure that the amendment apply only to the frozen financial assets while, at the same time, ensure that those who are victimized by the Iranian government receive their just compensation.
On May 21, 2012, Senator Menendez, through an Iran sanctions manager’s package, changed the language of his amendment to S.2101, which passed the U.S. Senate by unanimous consent. The bill was later reconciled with a House version of Iran sanctions legislation and is expected to be signed into law by President Obama. As a son of immigrants, Menendez is empathetic to the immigrant experience of the Iranian American as well as other communities and has worked with PAAIA in the past to promote Iranian culture and heritage. He is the chief sponsor of Senate Resolution 463, which recognizes the cultural and historical significance of Nowruz and expresses appreciation to Iranian Americans for their contributions to society. The resolution passed the U.S. Senate in March of 2010.
PAAIA thanks both the University of Chicago and Senator Menendez on working to resolve this matter. We look forward continuing our work on educating policy makers and advocating for the protection of Persian artifacts.