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UNESCO Database of National Cultural Heritage Laws





The four key dates:

  • 25-28 March 2003: the 12th session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation recommends that the Director-General “establish and maintain on the UNESCO website a legislation database that includes cultural heritage legislation from all Member States” and invites the Member States to give their full cooperation.
  • 29 September-17 October 2003: at its 32nd session, the General Conference supports the principle of establishing the database.
  • 15 October 2003: the Meeting of the States Parties to the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property recommends that Member States of UNESCO should promptly submit all their national legislation aimed at the protection of the cultural heritage.
  • 7-10 February 2005: official launch of the database at the 13th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation, two years after the initial recommendation.


The aim of the database 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.

By compiling on the Internet the laws for the protection of the cultural heritage promulgated by UNESCO’s Member States, the database makes it possible for everyone (governments, customs officials, art dealers, organizations, lawyers, buyers, etc.) to gain easy access to the laws in force. In case of doubt about the legal position, it is vital to be able to swiftly consult the relevant national laws. It might, for example, be necessary to determine whether certificates are required in order to export cultural property whose purchase is envisaged.

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.

In order to further strengthen protection of the cultural heritage, UNESCO is, in parallel, stepping up its campaign for the ratification and implementation of conventions relating to protection of the cultural heritage, such as the 1972 World Heritage Convention, the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (which entered into force on 20 April 2006) and the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (which entered into force on 18 March 2007).