Convention on the means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property .


The Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, commonly known as the UNESCO Convention, is an international treaty adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1970. Its purpose is to combat the illegal trade of cultural property and protect cultural heritage.

The convention was created in response to the increasing problem of looting, theft, and illegal trafficking of cultural artifacts and antiquities from archaeological sites, museums, and cultural institutions around the world. It recognizes that cultural heritage plays a vital role in the identity, history, and development of nations and should be safeguarded for future generations.

Key provisions of the convention include:

  1. Definitions and scope: The convention defines cultural property as movable or immovable property of great importance to the cultural heritage of a nation or humanity as a whole. It covers a wide range of objects, including archaeological artifacts, works of art, manuscripts, books, and ethnological objects.
  2. Prohibition on import, export, and transfer: States that are parties to the convention undertake to prohibit and prevent the import, export, and transfer of cultural property obtained illegally. They are encouraged to establish comprehensive legislation and regulatory frameworks to regulate the trade in cultural property and ensure due diligence by museums, art dealers, and collectors.
  3. Restitution and return: The convention emphasizes the importance of restitution and return of cultural property to its country of origin. States are encouraged to cooperate with each other in cases of stolen or illegally exported cultural property and take appropriate measures to facilitate the return of such property.
  4. International cooperation: The convention promotes international cooperation among states to prevent illicit trafficking and protect cultural heritage. It encourages the exchange of information, expertise, and best practices, as well as collaboration in the training of professionals and the promotion of public awareness.
  5. Emergency measures: The convention allows states to request assistance from other parties in cases of imminent danger to cultural property, such as armed conflicts or natural disasters. Parties are required to take appropriate measures to safeguard and protect cultural property during such emergencies.

The UNESCO Convention has been ratified by numerous countries worldwide, and its principles have influenced national legislation and international efforts to combat the illicit trade of cultural property. It has also led to the creation of specialized organizations and initiatives, such as the International Council of Museums (ICOM) and the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT), which work towards the implementation and enforcement of the convention’s provisions.

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