Database of National Cultural Heritage Laws

UNESCO has established an international instrument; the “Database of National Cultural heritage Laws”. Its aim is to protect the cultural heritage as a whole by combating the looting, theft, illegal export and import and illicit trafficking of cultural property as well as the degradation and all other forms of deterioration of the heritage.

© UNESCO

Launched in 2005, it compiles cultural heritage laws from different Member States. It offers free access to national legislations through an easy-to-use website: Search in database.

The United States of America supports financially the development of the database and has done since its establishment. Its contribution helps to develop the action plan aiming to upgrade and promote the database.   

The database lists:  

  • National laws for the protection of the cultural heritage materials and furnitures (paintings, sculptures, coins, archaelogical objects, ...) and underwater heritage (shipwrecks, buried cities, ...);
  • Import/export certificates for cultural property (available on request);
  • Official or unofficial translations of national laws and certificates;
  • Contact details for the national authorities responsible for the protection of the cultural heritage;
  • Addresses of the official national websites dedicated to the protection of the cultural heritage.

Both States and art markets stand to gain from this, while free access to national legislation allows good faith buyers to easily verify the legal antecedents of cultural property. It will make it harder for traffickers to claim to be ignorant of the law and thus of the illegal nature of what they are doing.

The database provides complete resource information and makes it possible for everyone (governments, customs officials, art dealers, organizations, lawyers, buyers, etc.) to access laws and rules regarding import, export and the ownership of cultural property.

© UNESCO/ Yves Lefèvre

Where the origin of the cultural property is uncertain (stolen, looted, exported, imported or acquired illegally), it is important to refer quickly to the pertinent national laws.    

Today, more than 2000 laws from 170 countries in 42 languages are published on line. These laws are available for consultation in their original language and in English.

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