Legal Texts on illicit trafficking

UNIDROIT Convention (1995)

UNIDROIT (International Institute for the Unification of Private Law) is an independent intergovernmental organization. Its purpose is to study needs and methods for modernizing, harmonizing and coordinating private and, in particular, commercial law between States and groups of States.

The 1995 UNIDROIT Convention was adopted by the Diplomatic Conference in Rome on 24 June 1995. This legal instrument was drawn up at the request of UNESCO with a view of developing a uniform minimum corpus of rules of private law relating to the international trade of art. The 1995 UNIDROIT Convention is a complementary instrument to supplement the provisions of public law contained in UNESCO’s 1970 Convention.

In the UNIDROIT Convention, States commit to a uniform treatment for restitution of stolen or illegally exported cultural objects and allow restitution claims to be processed directly through national courts. Moreover the UNIDROIT Convention covers all stolen cultural objects, not just inventoried and declared ones and stipulates that all cultural property must be returned.

As of February 2020, the Convention has 48 Contracting States  and 9 other States have signed but not yet ratified it.

Text of the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention

List ot States Parties in alphabetical order

General overview of the UNIDROIT Convention

Explanatory Report

Preparatory work

L.V. Prott, "UNESCO and UNIDROIT: a Partnership against Trafficking in Cultural Objects", 1996

UNESCO-UNIDROIT Model Provisions on State Ownership of Undiscovered Cultural Objects

The UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to Its Countries of Origin or Its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation and the UNIDROIT Governing Council and their respective Secretariats work together to protect cultural property.  Such cooperation and coordination is of particular importance for the protection of archaeological objects. 

In response to a growing need to standardize the definition of State ownership of those cultural objects yet undiscovered, the UNESCO and UNIDROIT Secretariats convened a group of experts and endowed them with a mandate to draft a text that would appropriately address the subject. The resultant Model Provisions and their explanatory guidelines are made available to the relevant domestic bodies and legislatures to help them establish and recognize State ownership of undiscovered cultural objects. 

The Model Provisions were designed to be brief, approachable and intelligible.  As such, the six provisions carefully articulate the legal status, as applicable to the respective acceding national legislations, of undiscovered cultural property as well as the methods by which it is enforced domestically and internationally, alike.  The principle of inalienability is extended to all cultural property, both discovered and not, through authorized excavation and otherwise. 

As a resource and tool, the Model Provisions are intended to serve as a complement to the work of the organs responsible for their commission and the relevant partners and associates.  They are aimed at facilitating the application of the 1970 UNESCO Convention and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention.  Each State is encouraged to implement the Model Provisions for a standardised understanding of State ownership of cultural property and better focused effort at its protection. It is noted, however, that the Model Provisions do not constitute a binding legal instrument. 

Other applicable international legal instruments

Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict: currently 133 States Parties; provides for the return of cultural property illegally exported from occupied territories
European Union Directive 2014/60/UE: applicable among the 28 Member States of the EU, it provides for a specific procedure for the return of illegally removed cultural property and introduce the notion of due diligence
Commonwealth Scheme: establishes a procedure for the return of stolen or illicitly exported objects within the Commonwealth; model legislation has been drafted which the 54 Commonwealth Member States may use as a basis for a national legislation.

Resolutions adopted by the United Nations General Assembly about Return and Restitution of Cultural Property

The United Nations General Assembly is also involved in this field. Indeed, since 1972, many resolutions on the Protection and the Return of Cultural Property, as part of the Preservation and Further Development of Cultural Values, have been adopted.

  • Resolution 3026 A (XXVII) of 18 December 1972
  • Resolution 3148 (XXVIII) of 14 December 1973
  • Resolution 3187 (XXVIII) of 18 December 1973
  • Resolution 3391 (XXX) of 19 November 1975
  • Resolution 31/40 of 30 November 1976
  • Resolution 32/18 of 11 Novembrer 1977
  • Resolution 33/50 of 14 December 1978
  • Resolution 34/64 of 29 November 1979
  • Resolutions 35/127 and 35/128 of 11 December 1980
  • Resolution 36/64 of 27 November 1981
  • Resolution 38/34 of 25 November 1983
  • Resolution 40/19 of 21 November 1985
  • Resolution 42/7 of 22 October 1987
  • Resolution 44/18 of 6 November 1989
  • Resolution 46/10 of 22 October 1991
  • Resolution 48/15 of 2 November 1993
  • Resolution 50/56 of 11 December 1995
  • Resolution 52/24 of 25 November 1997
  • Resolution 54/190 of 17 December 1999
  • Resolution 56/97 of 14 December 2001
  • Resolution 1483 of 22 May 2003 by the Security Council of the UN concerning Iraq
  • Resolution 58/17 of 3 December 2003
  • Resolution 61/52 of 4 December 2006
  • Resolution 64/78 of 7 December 2009
  • Resolution A.67/L.34 of 5 December 2012
  • Resolution 2199 of 12 February 2015
  • Resolution 70/76 of 9 December 2015
  • Resolution 2253 of 17 December 2015
  • Resolution 2347 of 24 March 2017