05.07.2007 -

Is every web surfer a likely suspect?

UNESCO, Interpol and ICOM team up to fight illicit traffic of cultural objects on internet.

The Degas painting was a fake, so was the Klimt, but the South American artifacts and fossils and the 7,000 coins for sale on internet sites were absolutely genuine. Selling them, however, was considered as illicit traffic of cultural property and they were seized. This handful of examples, taken from a recent study conducted by Interpol in 56 countries, illustrates how wide-ranging the illicit traffic in cultural property through the internet has become.


UNESCO has joined forces with Interpol and the International Council of Museums (ICOM) to fight this menace. Aware of the difficulties encountered by national authorities in trying to monitor such traffic, the three organizations jointly developed a set of <a href="http://portal.unesco.org/culture/admin/file_download.php/MesuresTraficIlliciteEn.pdf?URL_ID=21559&filename=11836509429MesuresTraficIlliciteEn.pdf&filetype=application%2Fpdf&filesize=32121&name=MesuresTraficIlliciteEn.pdf&location=user-S/">Basic Actions concerning Cultural Objects being offered for Sale over the Internet</a>, presented in a letter signed by the three organizations and sent to their Member States, Permanent Observers, Permanent Delegations, National Commissions and National Committees.


Available in English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Chinese, these measures consist of a list of basic actions to counter the spread of illicit traffic in cultural objects through internet. They include posting disclaimers advising prospective buyers to check and request a verification of the licit provenance of the object, by asking, for instance, to see export certificates and other guarantees of legal ownership, or by consulting Interpol's stolen art database. Cooperation between internet sales platforms and judicial authorities, national and international police forces and the cosigning organizations is also urged. Lastly, legal measures - investigation, seizure, prosecution and restitution - are recommended when criminal activity occurs.


These measures are directly in line with the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. By adopting this legal instrument in 1970, which includes concrete safeguarding measures, particularly against theft and pillage, UNESCO's Member States aimed to stress that in the same way as sites and monuments, antiquities and art objects represent elements of knowledge and contribute to forming peoples' identities. They were asserting furthermore that illicit traffic causes serious, if not irreparable, damage to humanity's cultural heritage.

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