International cooperation in the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property continues to be strengthened between UNESCO and its partners. All have a crucial role in providing information, education, training, but also in the development and implementation of tools to facilitate the return and restitution of cultural property.
This cooperation is also reflected in regular meetings and has produced tangible results, such as the return of cultural property and the improvement of the legal and operational framework for combating looting and the illicit transfer of cultural property.
UNESCO works closely with intergovernmental organizations that are also mandated to protect cultural property and fight against their illicit trafficking at the international level.
The International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT) is an independent organization. Its purpose is to identify needs and study methods to modernise, harmonise and coordinate private and, in particular, commercial law between States and groups of States, and to formulate uniform law instruments, principles and rules to achieve those objectives.
INTERPOL, specifically its Works of Art Unit, provides tools to facilitate the global exchange of information on crimes involving works of art, the details of the artworks and the criminals involved. It serves as a central repository, providing analysis to identify emerging trends in art thefts such as the use of the Internet for selling works of dubious background.
World Customs Organization
The World Customs Organization is focused exclusively on customs related matters. Recognised as the voice of the global customs community due to its worldwide membership, it works on the development of global standards, the simplification and harmonization of procedures, trade supply chain security, and the enhancement of enforcement and compliance activities.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is a United Nations agency that was established in 1997 as the Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention by combining the United Nations International Drug Control Program (UNDCP) and the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division.
The International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) is dedicated to the conservation of cultural heritage. It serves the international community, and represents 129 Member States.
Black Sea Economic Cooperation
The Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) came into existence as a unique and promising model of multilateral political and economic initiative aiming at fostering interaction and harmony among its members, as well as to ensure peace, stability and prosperity, encouraging friendly and good-neighborly relations in the Black Sea region.
UNESCO works in partnership with non-governmental organizations specialized in the protection of the cultural heritage.
The International Council of Museums (ICOM) is regularly called upon by UNESCO for all matters relating to museums, including: the development of inventories, the establishment of ethical guidelines (The Code of Ethics for Museums) and the publication of Red Lists. The development of these specific activities contributes to the overall implementation of the programme on the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property. For this reason, ICOM is regularly invited to participate in training workshops organized and funded by UNESCO.
ICOM has also launched an International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods, a collaborative platform designed to provide information and resources to all concerned parties.
The International council on monuments and sites (ICOMOS) works for the conservation and protection of cultural heritage places. It is the only global non-government organization of this kind, which is dedicated to promoting the application of theory, methodology, and scientific techniques to the conservation of the architectural and archaeological heritage. Its work is based on the principles enshrined in the 1964 International Charter on the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites.
Specialized Police Forces
UNESCO regularly collaborates with specialized police forces or national institutions whose mission is to fight trafficking, theft and looting of cultural property. Many States Parties to the 1970 Convention have established specialized police units to prevent and fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property. These specialized police units also play a crucial role, by creating a comprehensive national and regional network, in recovering stolen or lost cultural property, and their return to their place of origin.
INTERPOL, specifically its Works of Art Unit, provides tools to facilitate the global exchange of information between police forces on crimes involving works of art, the details of the artworks and the criminals involved. INTERPOL serves as a central repository for this data, providing analysis to identify emerging trends in art thefts such as the proliferation of counterfeit, fake or forged works; or the use of the Internet for selling works of dubious provenance.
The “Carabinieri Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage” in Italy, is a specialized police unit functionally dependent to the Ministry of Culture. The Department is tasked with the protection of the national cultural property through the prevention and repression of criminal activities, the recovery of looted cultural objects through the cooperation with international organizations, such as UNESCO, and other police forces.
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The Heritage Team of the Central Operational Unit of the ‘Guardia Civil’ is responsible for investigating any crime against cultural property, including in relation to art theft, looting and illicit trafficking of cultural goods, artwork fraud and counterfeits. The Heritage Team cooperates directly with Spain’s Ministry of Culture and other relevant departmental authorities responsible for protecting Spain’s heritage, as well as coordinating with other specialized police forces from other countries.
The “Central Office for the Fight against Trafficking of Cultural Property (OCBC)” is competent in dealing with the theft and/or receipt of stolen property with an artistic or historical value that relates to cultural heritage, but also in terms of artwork counterfeits. It is responsible for carrying out preventative activities as well as, training and outreach, and cooperating with international organizations, such as UNESCO, and other police forces.
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Other Specialized Police Forces
Department of Cultural Heritage Protection – Argentine Federal Police
Its mission is to prevent and combat illicit acts linked to the international traffic of works of art and objects that conform the national cultural heritage.
Service for Organized Crime, Art and Antiquities, within the Directorate of Crime against Goods (DJB), part of the Federal Police of Belgium.
“National Headquarters of Crimes Against the Environment and Cultural Heritage”, part of the Investigative Police of Chile.
Special Unit investigating crimes against cultural heritage ("Unidad Especializada en Investigación de Delitos contra el Patrimonio Cultural (UEIDPC)"), part of the National Police of Ecuador.
Division Crime against cultural goods, part of the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany.
Department Against Smuggling of Antiquities, a branch of the Greek National Police Division of Public Safety.
Art and Treasure Unit, National Office of Investigation, part of the National Police Headquarters of Hungary.
Arts and Antiques Unit, within the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, part of Ireland’s National Police Service.
Section of Investigation of Cultural and Art Theft, part of the Criminal Police Office of Lithuania.
Art and Antiques Crime Unit, part of the National Police of the Netherlands.
“Police Division for Historical Heritage National” (División de Patrimonio Historico Policial), part of the Investigative Police of Chile. Contact
National Unit for Combating Crime against National Heritage, Criminal Investigation Bureau, part of the National Police in Poland.
Historical Heritage Squad ("Brigada de Patrimonio Historicó"), part of the Criminal Police Department of Spain.
United Kingdom (London)
Art and Antiques Unit, Metropolitan Police.
United States of America
Art Crime Team, part of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
Throughout the world, several research centres and universities share UNESCO's desire to protect cultural heritage. Non-exhaustive list of research centres completely or partially involved in the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property.
The Art-Law Centre, closely linked to the Law Faculty of the University of Geneva, regularly organizes symposia, conferences and seminars and publishes research in the field of art law.
The Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA) is a research and outreach organization which works to promote the study and research of art and cultural heritage crime. The Association seeks to identify emerging and under-examined trends related to the study of art crime and to develop strategies to advocate for the responsible stewardship of our collective artistic and archaeological heritage.
The Centre of Studies on the International Legal Cooperation (CECOJI) is a research unit associating the University of Poitiers and the National Centre for Scientific Research. CECOJI is made of several teams that undertake research in diverse disciplinary fields of law, including cultural property law.
The Cultural Heritage Law program of DePaul University College of Law of Chicago, which is linked with Center for Art, Museum & Cultural Heritage Law (CAMCHL), organizes courses on Art and Law and offers students opportunities to explore externship and internship placements in this rapidly growing area of law.
The European University Institute (EUI) of Florence has a Working Group specialized in cultural heritage. The Working Group on Cultural Heritage aims to provide a forum for the exploration of issues related to cultural heritage, cultural property and the law.
ILLICID was launched by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and will broadly cooperate with other ministries and federal entities with a mandate on the protection of cultural heritage. Under the auspices of Prof. Dr. Markus Hilgert, Director of the Ancient Near East Museum at the Pergamonmuseum, the project will run until 2018.
The Institute of Art and Law is a small British independent research and educational organization which analyses the interface between the world of art and antiquities and that of law.
Conscious of the need to reinforce research and education on the fight against the illicit trafficking in higher education the Secretariat has actively promoted the creation of the UNITWIN network on the “Protection of Cultural Property Against Illicit Trafficking in the MENA region (ProCult)”.
The International Academy of Comparative Law
The International Research Group (GDRI) on « Patrimoine culturel et droit de l’art » (Cultural Heritage and Art Law) of the University Jean Monnet Paris-Sud 11, involves issues of illicit trafficking of cultural property, notably through a research programme in comparative law, which associates many international partners.
The Law Faculty Jean Moulin Lyon III has an Institut de Droit de l'Art et de la Culture.
Trafficking Culture aims to produce an evidence-based picture of the contemporary global trade in looted cultural objects. This research programme is based at the University of Glasgow and is funded by the European Research Council. Trafficking Culture produces original data and commentary on the illicit traffic in cultural objects, teaches courses and supervises students on the topic, engages with the media, maintains an active website and social networking links, and takes part in international discussions on law, policy and practice.
Donors for the Implementation of the 1970 Convention
Over the past 50 years, more and more UNESCO Member States have become involved in the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property. This commitment, which contributes to fulfilling UNESCO's mandate in the field of the protection of movable heritage, requires means that are indispensable to achieve the expected results.
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Thanks to the donors for their generous contribution
Voluntary Contributions for Specific Projects
As a long-standing partner of UNESCO, the European Union and UNESCO have launched a number of joint initiatives in the framework of the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2012.
Considered as one of its priorities in the field of culture, the protection of cultural goods and the fight against their illicit trafficking benefit from the active support of the European Union. The EU cooperates closely with UNESCO and other international partners to strengthen the regulatory environment and promote capacity-development of professionals in the field.
The recent projects are supported by the Directorate-General Education, Youth, Sport, and Culture (DG EAC) of the European Commission.
For further information on the joint cooperation actions of the European Union and UNESCO, please click here.
See also :
Kingdom of Spain
Training of trainers on the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property in Mauritania
Strengthening national capacities on the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property and the promotion of its restitution in Central America
In response to a call for voluntary contributions launched by the Secretariat of the 1970 Convention in 2018, the Swiss Confederation and the Kingdom of Sweden supported a project to update and improve the NATLAWS database. This project consists of revising and updating its content and improving the quality of the documents in a first phase (2019-2020); and undertaking a redesign of the website hosting the NATLAWS database