05.07.2019 - UNESCO Venice Office

Experts meet in Poland to strengthen regional cooperation in the fight against illicit trafficking

Precious Artifacts stolen from Museum Ethnological section, Skopje – 2015 artnet News

Lawyers from Brazil, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, North Macedonia, Romania and Spain participated on 6-7 June 2019 in Gdańsk, Poland, to the seminars “Ratification and implementation of the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention in Poland” and “Private Collections: Historical and Legal Perspective”. The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of Poland and the Polish National Commission for UNESCO gave their patronage to these two international conferences co-organised by UNIDROIT, the University of Gdańsk and the University of Opole (UNESCO Chair on Cultural Property Law), in cooperation with UNESCO.

UNIDROIT, an independent intergovernmental organisation with headquarters in Rome specializes in studying the needs and methods for modernising, harmonising and coordinating private and, in particular, commercial law between States and groups of States.

To improve international cooperation, UNIDROIT was asked by UNESCO to develop the Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects (1995). This was implemented as a complementary instrument to the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

Through this convention, States commit to a uniform treatment for restitution of stolen or illegally exported cultural objects and allow restitution claims to be processed directly through national courts. Moreover, the UNIDROIT Convention covers all stolen cultural objects, not just inventoried and declared ones, and stipulates that all cultural property must be returned.

These two international scientific events are the result of a joint initiative from UNIDROIT and the Law and Administration Faculty at the University of Opole Law and Administration Faculty of the University of Gdańsk. Were involved in their organisation the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe and the National Heritage Board of Poland.

The UNESCO Chair on Cultural Property Law established one year ago at the University of Opole is the only UNESCO Chair in the area of law in Poland. It cooperates with the UNESCO Chairs dealing with cultural heritage legal-related issues.

The conferences were held on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the University of Opole and the 50th anniversary of the Gdańsk University. It is a significant part of the cooperation between these institutions especially in creating teams of experts dealing with cultural heritage law and reinforcing collaboration between researchers.

Regional cooperation for the protection of cultural heritage and the fight against illicit trafficking is a key issue for East and South-East Europe. The historical partnership with UNIDROIT is crucial in this endeavour and the support from Academics and local experts helps raising awareness and improving legal and technical skills”, explained Edouard Planche, Head of Culture Unit, UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe.

Approaching its 30th year of adoption, the UNIDROIT Convention is proving to be an indispensable tool to facilitate return and restitution of cultural objects. “The convention also gains more and more attention and ratifications from national authorities, reaching, by the end of the year, 50 States Parties. The UNIDROIT Convention Academic Project (UCAP) contributes to increasing consciousness on the benefit of the Convention”, added Marina Schneider, Senior Legal Officer, UNIDROIT.

The first conference focused on the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on stolen or illegally exported cultural objects and the importance of this instrument in the fight against illicit traffic of cultural property”, declared Alicja Jagielska-Burduk, UNESCO Chair on Cultural Property Law.

Nowadays, transparency of transactions and exercising due diligence are crucial while facing threats of illegal traffic of cultural property. Due diligence refers especially to checking the object's provenance, whether it was exported legally and if the circumstances of the transaction such as price, seller's behaviour and place of the purchase raise any doubts.”, she added.

During the second conference, the problems of private collections in the national and international legal systems were addressed. The role of the private sector in the history of cultural heritage protection is undeniable, notably because museum's collections are very often based on private donations. Nowadays, similarly to the business sector, collectors are seeking for legal instruments enabling to keep the collection's integrity and succession's models that will guarantee that collection will be transmitted to future generations. 

Through its Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, UNESCO supported the participation of two experts from North Macedonia and Romania.

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