Persian Artifacts Loaned to the U.S. in the 1930s Returned to Iran after Legal Dispute

The National Museum of Iran received – and now displays – ancient clay tablets, which recently arrived from the United States. The ancient Persian artifacts are part of the “Persepolis Collection,” previously borrowed by the United States. Iran’s Minister of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Ali Asghar Mounesan reported that hundreds of ancient tablets, dating back to the Achaemenid Empire were returned on September 30, 2019. The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago last held the artifacts, where extensive research was conducted on their origins and historical significance.

Mr. Christopher Woods, the head of the Oriental Institute, stated that as a result of their historical research on the artifacts, the world knows more about the organization and institutions in Achaemenid societies of ancient Persia. These tablets were excavated from the site of Persepolis, the capital of what was once a politically and culturally advanced Achaemenid Empire approximately 2500 years ago. Iran loaned artifacts to the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute more than 80 years ago for research, translation and cataloging, after university archaeologists uncovered them in the 1930s at the site of the ancient city of Persepolis.

This collection was caught in the crossfires of a lengthy legal dispute that lasted over 14 years, and went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. A February 2018 decision came down in favor of a return of the collection to Iran. Rubin v. Islamic Republic of Iran showcased a stunning instance of legal consensus between the governments of the United States and Iran. The unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that clay tablets are exempt from seizure under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. The U.S. administration at the time expressed that a ruling to seize the artifacts could significantly disturb the observance of international reciprocity for the exchange of historical antiques.     

Mr. Woods and Mr. Mohammad Reza Kargar, a director of museums in Iran, both hope that the remainder of the collection still in the United States, which has been held up by bureaucratic delays due in part to the reimposition of U.S. sanctions, shall be returned to Iran in the near future. Another 17,000 artifacts from the initial loan remain in the United States. Tourists flock to Iran every year to visit both historical sites and museums to study and witness the stunning remnants of a once expansive and sophisticated Persian empire. 

by Mohsen Zarkesh

Recognizing the 2019 Recipients of the Iranian American Bar Association Foundation Scholarship

A central tenet of the Iranian-American Chamber of Commerce is to engage with and recognize other Iranian-American organizations that serve and support the Iranian-American community. To that end, this month the Chamber is pleased to recognize this year’s recipients of the Iranian American Bar Association Foundation Scholarship.

By way of background, the Iranian American Bar Association (IABA) is a nationwide organization for Iranian Americans in the legal profession. The IABA Foundation is an affiliated, but separate, non-profit organization that oversees the scholarship process. The Chamber is pleased to recognize the 2019 Scholarship recipients, Daniel Barlava and Fatemah Shahkolahi, and took a moment to chat with both of them about their scholarship awards:

Daniel Barlava (pictured at left) is a third-year law student at Columbia University Law School. He received a B.A. in History and Economics from Northwestern University, and followed his graduation by working for the U.S. Treasury Department. There, he supported law enforcement agencies’ efforts to conduct complex financial investigations. During his time at Columbia University, Daniel has focused on immigration defense, criminal convictions, and environmental litigation. Following law school, he will be working as an associate at the Irell & Maniella law firm in Los Angeles, focusing on public services. Daniel is excited about his involvement with the IABA because he wants to become more involved with Iranian-American lawyers in the community. He is interested in continuing his career by working with the government. He said that this would give him “the opportunity in the role of building bridges and taking down the barriers between Iranians in the U.S. and Iranians in Iran.” Daniel is honored and very proud to accept the IABA Foundation Scholarship.

Fatemah Shahkolahi (picture on right) is a third-year law student at the George Washington University Law School. She earned a B.A. with honors in English from Notre Dame of Maryland University and an M.A. in International Communication from American University. After receiving her M.A., Fatemah worked at an international NGO on addressing the refugee crisis in Lebanon. Throughout her time at law school, she has worked as a judicial intern to Judge Robert McDonald in the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. On receiving the scholarship, Fatemah noted that she “felt very happy and very fortunate,” saying, “it’s definitely a privilege to be provided with resources to fund my legal education and so I feel very honored that I was provided this opportunity.” Overall, she is excited about her future in the legal profession, and plans to focus on helping underserved populations. She explained, “it is an honor to use my legal education and law degree to help serve Iranian-Americans…I want to use my legal skills to help serve Iranian-Americans and any other underserved communities in the U.S.”

by Ariane Sharifi

Human Rights Watch Issues New Report on the Devastating Impact of Sanctions on Healthcare in Iran

On October 29, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a new, 47-page report titled “‘Maximum Pressure’: US Economic Sanctions Harm Iranians’ Right to Health.”

The report finds that the Trump Administration’s exceedingly broad sanctions on Iran have dramatically impaired the country’s ability to finance humanitarian imports, such as medicines. The report explains that this impediment is causing serious hardships for ordinary Iranians and threatening their right to health. HRW encourages the Trump Administration to take immediate steps to ensure that a viable channel exists for trade in humanitarian goods with Iran.

Specifically, the report outlines how the broad financial restrictions on Iran, coupled with increasingly aggressive rhetoric from United States officials, have radically slashed the ability of Iranian entities to finance humanitarian imports, including vital medicines and medical equipment. Although there are exemptions for humanitarian imports in the U.S. sanctions regime on Iran, HRW concluded that in reality, these exemptions have failed to offset the strong reluctance of US and European companies and banks to risk incurring sanctions and legal action. The result has been to deny Iranians access to essential medicines and to impair their right to health. HRW urges that under international law, the U.S. should monitor the impact of its sanctions on Iranians’ rights and address any violations sanctions cause.

Read HRW’s full article discussing the report. The report is available here.

by USIRCC Staff

Policy Controversy: Proposal Seeks to Rein In Big Tech Amid Murmurs of a Big Tech Break-Up

This article examines one of the most bold, controversial, and progressive policy proposals currently cycling through the political corridors of Washington: the proposal to “break up” big technology companies, chief among them Facebook, Google, and Amazon. This proposal has stoked controversy in legal and economic policy circles since its introduction in March. In leaked audio from an employee meeting, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, said the company will fight any such measure.

One of the current proposals is twofold. The first pillar of the proposal is to pass new legislation requiring large tech platforms to be designated as “Platform Utilities” and broken apart from participants on that platform. “Platform Utilities” are defined as companies with annual global revenue of $25 billion or more, and which offer to the public an online marketplace, an exchange, or a platform for connecting third parties. Specifically, Amazon Marketplace, Google’s ad exchange, and Google Search are mentioned as platforms that would fall under its scope. In other words, Amazon Marketplace would be split apart from Amazon Basics, which offers products for sale on the marketplace. Similarly, Google’s ad exchange and businesses on the exchange would be split apart. The idea behind this proposal is that it is fundamentally unfair for a company that operates such a platform to also compete on its own platform with other (smaller) companies.

The second pillar of this policy proposal involves blocking mergers, which would lead to more consolidation of an already concentrated tech sector. Some variations of this policy even call for unwinding previously consummated transactions, which has the potential to impact the acquisitions of Whole Foods and Zappos by Amazon, WhatsApp and Instagram by Facebook, and Waze, Nest and DoubleClick by Google. Rather than legislation, effectuating this prong of the proposal centers on the appointment of government officials in the relevant agencies who are committed to this agenda.

Along the same vein, the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice in the Trump Administration, under the leadership of Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, an Iranian-American lawyer, announced in July that it will launch a wide-ranging antitrust review of “Market-Leading Online Platforms.” The announcement refers to “search, social media, and some retail services online.” This is generally understood to apply to the same big tech companies and also Apple, even though the Department’s announcement does not call out any particular company by name. “Without the discipline of meaningful market-based competition, digital platforms may act in ways that are not responsive to consumer demands,” said Mr. Delrahim. Thus, the Division is reviewing “whether and how market-leading online platforms have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers.”

In sum, there seems to be a growing consensus that there is a need for scrutiny into the competitive conditions of the online and technology marketplace. The main concern among many policy experts is that traditional antitrust frameworks and practices may not be adequate to address the new issues arising in this area, especially since many of these services are offered to customers free of charge. But this lack of price-competition does not exclude the possibility that more competition would lead to better outcomes for consumers on other fronts such as privacy, and also further stimulate innovation. We will know soon what, if any, impact this debate will have on major technology companies and their billions of customers.

by Amin Bahrami, Legal Fellow