The fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property - success stories of the Carabinieri

The adoption of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property in 1970 provided an impetus to UNESCO’s action in the fight against illicit trafficking and the return stolen objects, ,alongside its Member States and UNESCO partners. One long-time UNESCO partner is the Carabinieri – Italy’s specialized cultural heritage police force. UNESCO was pleased to host at its Headquarters in October 2019 the exhibition Recovered Treasures: An exhibition of stolen or illegally exported unique artworks recovered by the Italian Carabinieri. This unique exhibition traces 50 years of research, cooperation and restitution of cultural property by the Carabinieri Command around the world.

In her inaugural speech, the Director-General of UNESCO, Ms Audrey Azoulay, stressed the importance of international cooperation and the complementary work between the 1970 Convention and the Carabinieri Command. This exhibition, organized by the Italian Delegation to UNESCO, reminded us that the governments and citizens are the first actors for safeguarding, restoring and promoting our cultural heritage. By establishing a holistic cultural governance, the 1970 Convention provides awareness-raising and capacity-building activities for the art market, police forces, customs, judicial authorities, museums and the general public, and the exhibition highlighted a number of good practices that can be followed.

In particular, the exhibition showcased success stories of precious cultural objects that were stolen, located and returned to the country of origin. For example, the public learned about the 16th century painting Leda and the Swan attributed to Lelio Orsi, which was recovered in New York in 2012, or about a bronze sculpture from 360-340 BC, stolen in 1943, and recovered by the Carabinieri in 2019 in Switzerland, among other examples.