"Return & Restitution" Intergovernmental Committee

In 1976, under the aegis of UNESCO, a committee of experts met in Venice to study the question of the restitution or return of lost cultural property, whether as a result of foreign or colonial occupation or following illicit traffic before the entry into force, for the States concerned, of the 1970 Convention.

Stressing the absence of international mechanisms, the experts invited the Director-General of UNESCO to consider the creation of an international body responsible for finding ways to facilitate bilateral negotiations between the countries concerned for the return or restitution of cultural property and encourage them to conclude agreements to that effect.

The UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP) was established by Resolution 20 C4 / 7.6 / 5 of the 20th session of the Conference General of UNESCO in 1978 as a permanent intergovernmental body.

The Committee is a permanent intergovernmental body, independent of the 1970 Convention.

The men and women of this countries have the right to recover these cultural assets which are part of their being.

Appeal by Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow, former Director-General of UNESCO


This appeal by Mr Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow, former Director-General of UNESCO, is the impetus for the debate "A Plea for the return of an irreplaceable cultural heritage to those who created it".

A State regardless whether they are party to the Convention or not, which has lost cultural property of fundamental importance and which requests its restitution or return, in cases not covered by international conventions, may appeal to the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation.

The Committee is responsible for:

1.  Pursing the  appropriate means of facilitating bilateral negotiations for the restitution or return of cultural property to the countries of origin. In this regard, the Committee may also submit proposals to the Member States concerned for mediation or conciliation;

2. The promotion of multilateral and bilateral cooperation for the restitution and return of cultural property to its countries of origin;

3. The encouragement of research and studies for the establishment of coherent programs for the constitution of representative collections in countries whose cultural heritage has been dispersed;

4. The stimulation of  a public information campaign on the real nature, extent, and scope of the problem of the restitution or return of cultural property to its countries of origin;

5. To guide the design and implementation of UNESCO's programme of activities in the field of the restitution or return of cultural property to its countries of origin;

6. To encourage the establishment or strengthening of museums or other institutions for the conservation of cultural property and the training of the necessary scientific and technical personnel;

7. To promote exchanges of cultural property in accordance with the Recommendation on the International Exchange of Cultural property;

8. To report on its activities to the General Conference of UNESCO at each ordinary session.

It acts as an advisory body and a body responsible for facilitating bilateral negotiations; it has no legal power to decide on the cases involved . But it is the initiator of several practical tools to better protect the heritage:

  • Awareness campaigns: film, videos and publications
  • Rules of mediation and conciliation on conflicts related to cultural property
  • Model export certificate for cultural objects
  • Database of national cultural heritage legislations
  • Restitution cases database project
  • Measures to fight trafficking on the internet
  • Code of ethics for traders of cultural property

Members of the Intergovernmental Committee

The Committee is made up of 22 Member States elected for a period of four years by the General Conference of UNESCO, half of these members being renewed every two years at the time of elections held at the General Conference.

Mediation and Conciliation

Before filing a complaint to the Intergovernmental Committee, the requesting State must initiate bilateral negotiations with the State in which the object claimed is located; it is only if these negotiations fail or are interrupted that the case can be presented   to the Committee.

The General Conference of UNESCO adopted at its 33rd  session a strategy to facilitate the restitution of stolen or illegally exported cultural property. This strategy explicitly articulates the Committee's mediating and conciliatory functions.

Rules of Procedure for Mediation and Conciliation

At its 16th session in September 2010, the Committee considered and adopted the Rules of Procedure for Mediation and Conciliation. Only UNESCO Member States and Associate Member States are entitled to refer to the procedures developed for mediation and conciliation. However, States may represent the interests of public or private institutions located on their territories, as well as those of their nationals.

The Rules of Procedure for Mediation and Conciliation  have been developed according to the general principles of fairness, impartiality and good faith, which aim to promote a harmonious and fair settlement of disputes concerning the return of cultural property. As such, the text provides for confidential communication of relevant political, diplomatic, legal and financial matters between mediators and conciliators and each party. It was developed to complement the work of the Intergovernmental Committee. Furthermore, its provisions must not interfere, slow down, impede  or in any way threaten other procedural and legislative measures.

It should be specified that the text adopted by the Intergovernmental Committee is intended as a legal tool which does not constitute a binding normative commitment.

Every two years, each State is invited to nominate to the Secretariat the names of two people who can serve as mediators and conciliators. Their qualification is based on their competence and mastery in restitution, conflict resolution and other characteristics specific to the protection of cultural property.

Standard Form Concerning Requests for Return or Restitution

In 1981, the Intergovernmental Committee developed a "Standard Form for Requests for Return or Restitution " which must be completed by both parties.

To be considered, a request for return or restitution must be submitted at least six months before the session of the Intergovernmental Committee.