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.

European Union

In the framework of their Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2012, the European Union and UNESCO have undertaken a number of joint initiatives.

Considered one of its priorities in the field of culture, the European Union actively supports the protection of cultural property and the fight against its illicit trafficking, and cooperates closely with UNESCO and other international partners to strengthen the regulatory environment.

The recent projects are briefly highlighted below:

Inter-regional and crosscutting action aiming to strengthen the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property

This ongoing EU-UNESCO initiative builds upon and complements the two previously undertaken projects (see below) by broadening their geographical scope from the EU Member States to Western Balkans and European Neighborhood Instrument (ENI) South Partner countries, and by addressing a wider range of key professional groups, including:

  • Museum and cultural heritage professionals ;
  • Professionals from the banking sector, private investment funds and insurance companies ;
  • Art market professionals ;
  • Judiciary and law enforcement officials ;
  • State civil servants working for relevant ministries ;
  • General public and local communities.

The overall objective of the initiative is to reduce the illicit trafficking of cultural property in the EU and beyond by reinforcing the skills of key professionals and by stimulating new synergies between source, transit and destination countries.

The project is both professionally crosscutting and inter-regional in its approach, and features the following activities:

  • Peer-to-peer actions in 3 pilot countries ;
  • Regional and sub-regional knowledge-sharing meetings ;
  • Target audience training workshops ;
  • Digital documentation and training resource centre ;
  • Communication and awareness-raising campaign.

Project implementation is ongoing since 2019.

Training the European judiciary and law enforcement on the fight against the illicit trafficking in cultural property

This joint UNESCO - EU initiative contributed to raising awareness of European judiciary and law enforcement officials of the existing international legal framework and practical tools to fight the illicit trafficking of cultural property. By doing so, it also reinforced the capacity of European Union Member States to protect cultural heritage within and beyond their borders in a more efficient way.

The project provided magistrates, lawyers, judges, prosecutors, police officials and customs agents with a Toolkit, as well as with training through e-learning modules.

In closing the project, a first training workshop brought together European judicial and law enforcement officials and experts in the fight against illegal trafficking of cultural property at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris in November 2018.


Engaging the European Art Market in the Fight Against the Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property

The project “Engaging the European art market in the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property” contributed to strengthening the capacities of European art market stakeholders in their application of due diligence when dealing with cultural objects. This joint initiative from UNESCO and the European Commission further helped to sensitize public and private art market actors from European Union (EU) Member States to the necessity of protecting cultural heritage and to the implications of the illicit trade regarding terrorism financing, organized crime, and money laundering.

A two-day conference held in March 2018 at UNESCO Headquarters brought together representatives from EU Member States’ governments, regional interest groups, and professionals and provided capacity-building by experts and representatives from UNESCO and its institutional partners in the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property.


Emergency Safeguarding of the Syrian Heritage

The overall objective of the Emergency Safeguarding of the Syrian Heritage project is to contribute to restoring social cohesion, stability and sustainable development through the protection and safeguarding of cultural heritage. In view of the growing destruction and loss of cultural heritage that reach the international community day after day, the project is a first step to monitor the on-going destruction and loss of cultural heritage, mitigate its destruction and loss, and prepare the post-conflict priority actions, as well as the medium and long term actions, as a means to restore normalcy and social cohesion.

Officially launched on 1 March 2014 for a period of three years, this collaboration aims at halting the on-going loss of cultural heritage and prepare post-conflict priority actions. 


See also

Intergovernmental Organizations

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.

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.

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.

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.

Non-Governmental Organizations

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.

Key Partners

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.
More information

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.
More information | Contact 

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.
More Information

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.
More Information | Contact

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.

More information

Service for Organized Crime, Art and Antiquities, within the Directorate of Crime against Goods (DJB), part of the Federal Police of Belgium.
More information

“National Headquarters of Crimes Against the Environment and Cultural Heritage”, part of the Investigative Police of Chile.

Office for Cultural Property, within the Criminal Investigation Office, part of the Cyprus Police
More information | Contact

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.
More information

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


Research Institutes

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)”.

See also:

The International Academy of Comparative Law

The Hague Academy of International Law

The American Bar Association

The Queensland University

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.