Recent restitution cases of cultural objects using the 1970 Convention

The 1970 UNESCO Convention and the laws which are subsequent to its implementation at the national level are useful for the National Authorities of the State Parties, that would like to return one or several cultural objects to another country.


©Federal Office of Culture

Switzerland - Egypt, November 2018

Switzerland has returned 26 archaeological treasures to Egypt in line with its obligations under the 1970 UNESCO convention.  They date from between the 3rd millennium BC and the 4th century BC. The objects had been confiscated in the context of two criminal cases in cantons Lucerne and Valais.
For more information click here.



Canada - Jordan, November 2018

Canada returned to Jordan antiquities, some dating back to the third or fourth century CE and the Roman period. The event took place on 26 November 2018 at the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa, Canada.
“Canada is pleased to return these significant heritage objects to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in keeping with our treaty obligations under the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the illicit traffic in cultural property.” Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism.
For more information click here.


© República de Colombia

United States – Colombia, October 2018

The United States restituted to Colombia 40 pre-Columbian pieces seized after a long-term intelligence work by the FBI in Indiana. This restitution is the result of the application of the Memorandum of Understanding between Colombia and the United States, which objectives are in line with those set out in the 1970 Convention.
For more information click here.



© The Kathmandu Post

USA - Nepal, April 2018

Two ancient idols that were stolen from the country more than 30 years ago before turning up in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York were returned. Madhu Marasini, Nepal’s consul general in New York, handed over the stolen images of Uma Maheshwor and Buddha to the official of Department of Archaeology (DoA) in Kathmandu. Earlier on March 5, the government had signed an agreement with the museum for the handover of the idols that rightfully belong to Nepal.
For more information click here.


© Oficina de Prensa MCJ

Venezuela - Costa Rica, January 2018

The National Museum of Costa Rica (MNCR) is exhibiting 196 recovered pre-Columbian artifacts after they were decommissioned in Venezuela between 2010 and 2014 and brought back to the Central American country by sea.
For more information click here.


© Ministère de l'Europe et des Affaires étrangères

France - Egypt, October 2017

On 26 October, France has restituted to Egypt eight archaeological pieces seized by the French customs in January 2010.
For more information click here.


© Department of Canadian Heritage

Canada - Bulgaria, January 2016
On January 18, 2016 the Government of Canada formally returned an antique sword and dagger to the Government of the Republic of Bulgaria at the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa. The return was made in accordance with Canada’s obligations under the 1970 UNESCO Convention to which Bulgaria is also a signatory. The sword, a 19th century curved yatagan with unusual markings, and the Cretan-style dagger were intercepted by Canada’s customs officials upon arrival in Canada. The import was assessed by the Department of Canadian Heritage under the Cultural Property Export and Import Act and a Federal Court determined that the antiquity was illegally imported into Canada. The return marks the 21st return by Canada to a fellow State Party to the 1970 Convention, and the third return of cultural property to Bulgaria. 


Phoenician pendant © Institut canadien de conservation

Canada - Lebanon, July 2015
The Government of Canada officially handed over a Phoenician artifact - a pendant dating back from approximately 600 BC. The artifact was returned to Lebanon in conformity with the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

This is the 20th return of a cultural object by Canada to another State Party to the Convention.

USA- Iraq, May 2015

On May 15, 2015, U.S. Special Operations Forces recovered a cache of hundreds of archaeological and historical objects and fragments during a raid. The cache represents significant primary evidence of looting at archaeological sites in Syria and Iraq, theft from regional museums, and the stockpiling of these spoils for likely sale on the international market. All objects and fragments were turned over to officials at the Iraq National Museum on July 15 by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.



© Department of Canadian Heritage

Canada - India, April 2015

Canada returns a 12th century sculpture of a Parrot Lady to the Republic of India in conformity with the UNESCO 1970 Convention. 

USA-Iraq, March 2015

More than 60 Iraqi cultural treasures illegally smuggled into the United States were returned to the Republic of Iraq on March 16, 2015, following five separate investigations led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The objects were seized at the culmination of investigations led by HSI offices in New York; Baltimore, Maryland; Austin, Texas; and New Haven, Connecticut.




Ambassador of Egypt to Germany, Dr. Higazy, and the German Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, Prof. Dr. Böhmer, during the handover ceremony © photothek

Germany - Egypt, April 2014
On 30 April 2014 Germany returned three antique Egyptian objects – a stela, an obelisk and a shrine – to Egypt. Coming from Switzerland the illegally exported objects had been confiscated by German custom investigators at the border checkpoint. A court in Freiburg decided their return to Egypt.

Masque de la Gorgone

Tunisia - Algeria, April 2014
In April 2014, the Algerian and Tunisian authorities signed an agreement for the restitution of the Mask of Gorgon, a rare archaeological object made of 320 kilograms of marble which was stolen from the site of Hippo Regius, Annaba (in Algeria) in 1996 and recovered in Tunisia.
During the restitution ceremony, the archaeological piece was exhibited at the Carthage National Museum. On 13 April 2014 the mask returned to Algeria and is currently exhibited at the National Museum of Antiquities in Algiers.


© van Hasz, Bavarian State Office of Criminal Investigation

July 2013: Germany to Cyprus
In July 2013, Germany returned some 170 frescoes, mosaics and icons to Cyprus.  They had been stolen from churches in Cyprus and were seized by the German authorities in 1997. A Court in Munich had given the go-ahead for their return to Cyprus after it issued a final ruling on the question of ownership.

The picture depicts a wall mosaic of the apse of the church of the Panagia Kanakaria in Lythrangomi, dating back from the 6th century.  

© Hesse State Ministry of Higher Education, Research and the Arts

May 2013: Germany to Bulgaria
In May 2013, Germany returned a votive offering from the 2nd/3rd century BC in the form of a Danubian Horseman silver plaque to Bulgaria.

The picture depicts the Consul Ivan Ilianvov Jordanov, from Bulgaria, and the German State Secretary, Ingmar Jung, during the handover ceremony.  


June 2013: Libya, Sabratha
In March 2013, two statue heads from the classical museum of the archaeological site of Sabratha, inscribed on the World Heritage List (1982), were looted and the statues damaged.

On 7 June 2013, the police in coordination with the 1st Infantry Battalion Libya Shield arrested a network of smugglers indicted in the robbery of two heads of statues from the Sabratha Museum.

Seahorse © Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Turkey

March 2013: Germany to Turkey
Germany has returned a golden brooch “seahorse with wings” to Turkey. The brooch had been stolen from a museum in Usak, Turkey, in 2005 and was seized by German authorities in 2012. After Turkey had been informed via Interpol as well as by the German Foreign Office, the brooch was handed over to Turkish representatives on March 5, 2013 on the basis of the German Code of Criminal Procedure.
Federal Foreign Office, press release 7 March 2013


Australia - Peru and Jordan, September 2011

The Australian Government officially returned precious cultural antiquities to the Peruvian and Jordanian governments. The objects were returned under the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986. Under the Act, cultural assets which have been illegally exported from their country of origin are returned home.

Australian Government's website

Canada - Bulgaria, June 2011

The Government of Canada returned to the Republic of Bulgaria 21,000 coins, pieces of jewellery, and other objects that were illegally imported to Canada and seized by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. 

Address by Ms Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of the Ceremony to handover trafficked cultural property from Canada to Bulgaria

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