Illicit Traffic of Cultural Property
14 November 2010 marks the 40th anniversary of the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.
Sixteen years after the adoption of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its Protocol of 1954, the international community decided to extend this protection by adopting the 1970 UNESCO Convention, to curb the increasing illicit international trafficking of cultural property.
Under the provisions of this pioneering international treaty, States cooperate to protect the cultural property on their territory and fight its illicit import, export and transfer. This international legal instrument addresses a rapidly evolving issue that is attracting a significant political, media, diplomatic, and legal attention.
To date, the 1970 Convention has been ratified by 123 Member States of UNESCO, including many culture-rich countries as well as former hubs of illicit traffic.
However, given the spectacular globalization of illegal trade of cultural objects over the past decades, it is now more than ever essential that all countries join the ranks of States Parties to the Convention, to prevent further impoverishment of their own heritage, which also belongs to all of humanity.
To deal with cases outside the scope of the 1970 Convention or other international agreements, UNESCO set up in 1978 the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation. This platform of negotiation, mediation and conciliation intends to facilitate the restitution of important cultural objects, such as the Parthenon sculptures, and to develop means to prevent and raise awareness about the combat against illicit trafficking.
Nowadays, given the problem of illegal excavations and trade of archaeological objects, the 1970 Convention now stands at a crossroads. Many UNESCO Member States would like to increase its visibility, improve its implementation at national level and reconsider its perspectives for the future.