In 2020, the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property celebrates its 50th anniversary
Adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on 14 November 1970, this Convention provides an international framework for the prevention of theft and looting and the return and restitution of stolen cultural property, in parallel with other advances in the fight against illicit trafficking.
International communication campaign
Know the real price of art
For over 50 years UNESCO has developed a legal reference to fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property through the 1970 Convention, which offers a common framework to States Parties on the measures to be taken to prohibit and prevent the import, export and transfer of illicit cultural goods.
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the 1970 Convention, UNESCO is launching an international communication campaign The True Price of Art with the agency DDB Paris who designed it. In the press and on social networks, this campaign aims to raise the general public’s awareness of the disastrous consequences of this trafficking. The five visuals present a true story of an antiquity stolen from the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Asia and Latin America. These stolen objects reveal the grim reality of the illicit trafficking of cultural property: terrorist financing, illegal excavations, thefts from a museum destroyed by war, the erasure of a people's memory ...
In order to continue raising awareness among as many people as possible, and to fight more effectively against this scourge, several major events are organized to celebrate this anniversary: the 8th session of the Subsidiary Committee of the Meeting of States Parties to the 1970 Convention ( October 27 to 28), the first International Day against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property (14 November), and the International Conference in Berlin (16 to 18 November). This conference, organized in partnership with the German Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the European Commission and the Council of Europe, aims to analyze the priorities by region, study the issues, and share recommended solutions, as promoted by the 1970 Convention’s spirit of international cooperation. The press release is available and a special issue of the UNESCO Courier is also devoted to this subject and is available online.
How much for the soul of a nation?
The Just Judges
Jan and Hubert Van Eyck, 1432
This is the lower left panel of the Ghent Altarpiece, a national treasure and one of the major paintings of the Flemish Renaissance. This essential part, which may contain portraits of Jan and Hubert Van Eyck, was stolen in 1934 and never found again.
How do you erase a whole culture ? Piece by piece
Mask Téhé Gla
Côte d'Ivoire, early 20th Century
This African art object was looted in Adijan when fighting broke out following the crisis of 2010. A rare testemony to the history of the Wé people of Côte d'Ivoire, its loss is irreplaceable.
Supporting an armed conflict has never been so decorative.
Woman with polos
A priceless antiquity similar to this was stolen from Syria, when the fighting was at its peak in 2014, before being smuggled into the European market. Illicit trade in antiquities is one of the main sources of funding of armes groups.
Art knows no frontiers. Neither does organized crime
Inca ceramic jug
Peru, 1470-1532 A.D.
This piece of pre-Colombian art was looted in an illegal excavation.It passed through various middlemen and crossed Ecuador, before ending up in the hands of traffickers and showing up on the international art market.
Terrorism is such a great curator
Head of Budda
Afghanistan, 3rd-4th century A.D.
This antiquity belongs to the National Museum of Afghanistan. The Taliban smashed a large part of the museum's collection, and local dealers smuggled the priceless item into the international market. Thousands of looted objects from the museum are still missing.
All the global activities of the celebrations
The 50th anniversary of the 1970 Convention against Illicit Trafficking is an opportunity for UNESCO, its partners - INTERPOL, ICOM, WCO, UNIDROIT, the Italian Carabinieri - and all other stakeholders to celebrate the achievements of the past 50 years and to reflect on the challenges ahead. Until November 2021, numerous events around the world will commemorate the adoption of this fundamental text.
These celebrations in their pluralities reflect the global dynamics that for the past fifty years have called for joint action in support of State capacity-building, public awareness, the return and restitution of cultural property and international cooperation.
- The Dakar Regional Office organized the first online training course "Fight against illicit trafficking in cultural property in Africa: strengthening operational networks" from June 2 to 15, 2020. This training in partnership with the World Customs Organization and INTERPOL brought together 50 heritage and museum professionals, Customs and Police officers from Burkina Faso, Mali, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal, who were trained in operational methods to fight against illicit trafficking in cultural property. This capacity building was accompanied by 6 high-level experts/trainers, who facilitated the exchange of experiences and the development of operational procedures. This training has enabled the further development of dialogue and coordination between law enforcement and security forces, ministries of culture and heritage professionals at the national level. The choice of an interdepartmental training is in line with the actions undertaken by UNESCO, the World Customs Organization and INTERPOL since 2018, the beginning of their operational partnership in Africa.
- SADC Police Officers responsible for intellectual property, works of art and cultural heritage met virtually on 11 November 2020 to share country experiences and come up with best practices as well as develop a strategy to protect against illicit trafficking of works of art/cultural property in the region. The Southern African Regional Bureau for Interpol in partnership with UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa and Africa Region Intellectual Property Organisation organised the meeting as part the 50th Anniversary of the 1970 Convention celebrations.
- On November 16, 2020, the UNESCO office in Abidjan co-organizes with the Museum of Civilizations of Côte d'Ivoire, an official ceremony to launch the inventory of its collections and those of the National Museum of Costumes of Grand-Bassam. A press conference with various panelists from the cultural world will present the 1970 Convention and will be the place of return and restitution in the country. Representatives of the Academy of Sciences, Arts, Cultures of Africa and African Diasporas (ASCAD), the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) and ECOWAS will be present.
Informations will coming soon
Asia and the Pacific
The Pnomh Penh UNESCO office will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1970 Convention and the 100th anniversary of the National Museum of Cambodia at a ceremony on December 12, 2020 where Phoeurng Sackona, Minister of Culture and Fine Arts of Cambodia, and, H.E. Mrs. Eva Nguen Binh, Ambassador of France to Cambodia will be present. Within the framework of these celebrations, several activities on the management, conservation, and restoration of Khmer antiques will take place. The return of several of these cultural properties is planned if the sanitary situation allows it.
Europe and North America
UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe in Venice, in cooperation with its partners, is organizing a sub-regional impact-assessment meeting on the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property on 20-21 October 2020.
- The National Museums of World Culture, the Swedish National Heritage Board and The Swedish National Commission for UNESCO organize on 16th November the digital seminar “50 years in the service of cultural objects”. The Swedish UNESCO Prize will be awarded during the seminar. It goes to cultural heritage journalist Ms Khazar Fatemi for her documentary series Culture in the Danger Zone, which with its personal appeal has spread knowledge about the crucial role of global cultural heritage in identity creation and shown that ancient cultural objects are not just objects but stories about people and communities.
- The Federal Foreign Office of Germany, the European Commission and the Council of Europe in partnership with UNESCO are organizing an international online conference on multilateralism, cultural heritage protection and the fight against illicit trafficking from 16 to 18 November. The first part of the conference on 16 November will be introduced by Ms Azoulay, and will focus on the current challenges of protecting cultural heritage in times of crisis and in the face of climate change and examine risk prevention and the importance of multilateral cooperation at both regional and international levels. The second part, 17-18 November, will be devoted to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1970 Convention. Several roundtable discussions with experts will be dedicated to the mechanisms for the restitution of cultural property in line with the 1970 Convention and regional priorities and specificities in the fight against illicit trafficking in cultural property.
- The National Heritage Board of Latvia, on November 24th and 25th, 2020, is organizing an international online conference “Opportunities and Challenges of Art and Antiques Market Management”. The event will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1970 Convention and the twenty-fifth anniversary of the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on the Theft or Illegal Export of Cultural Property.
Turkey will organize, within the framework of its Presidency Term 2020-2021 of the South East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) and the 50th anniversary of the 1970 Convention, an online meeting entitled “Capacity Building Meeting on Activities and Cooperation Against Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property” on 14 December 2020. The meeting will focus on activities and cooperation against illicit trafficking in cultural property. Different methodological approaches and case studies will be discussed by the participants. The principles of mutual assistance and cooperation, agreements and conventions related to the issue.
The Geneva Liaison Office has produced an awareness-raising video on illicit trafficking of cultural property in the Swiss context. Through the narration of three experts, the video addresses the themes of illegal excavations and looting of sites, free ports, the implementation of the 1970 Convention in Swiss legislation, and the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property in Switzerland.
Latin America and the Caribbean
- As part of the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the 1970 Convention, UNESCO organized, in collaboration with the Peruvian government, the "Cuzco Forum: Regional Technical Dialogue on the Future of International Cooperation in the Fight against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property" for the Latin American and Caribbean region, on October 1 and 8, 2020. This first dialogue organized at the regional level, was chaired by Leslie Urteaga, Vice-Minister of Cultural Heritage and Cultural Industries of Peru. Several Member States from the Latin American and Caribbean region, as well as professionals from the cultural heritage and judicial systems, expressed themselves around expert presentations on the issue of illicit trafficking in cultural property, illegal excavations and online trade during COVID-19, as well as on the technical means to strengthen the implementation of the 1970 Convention, its effectiveness and visibility in its legal, political and operational aspects.
Series of three webinars on the art market with the aim of recognizing the achievements already made and summoning main protagonists of the art market to join the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, UNESCO Montevideo is organizing a series of webinars with the National Cultural Heritage Commission (Uruguay) to promote awareness of illicit trafficking among the various actors in the art market. During the three sessions of the event, international experts will present advances and opportunities, selected cases and reflections on the legal framework for protection and the role of the different actors in the art market - auction houses, art and antiques dealers, gallery owners, collectors and online sales platforms - to promote collaboration, due diligence and public awareness of illicit trafficking in cultural property.
Strengthening legal tools
With ratifications from Bulgaria, Ecuador and Nigeria, the Convention entered into force on 24 April 1972. It is the first instrument of international law for the protection of cultural property during peacetime.
Later, in 1978, the Intergovernmental Committee for the Promotion of the Return of Cultural Property to their Country of Origin or its Restitution in the Event of Illegal Appropriation (ICPRCP) was created to deal specifically with the return or restitution of pillaged or lost cultural property, in particular for those cases occurring before the entry into force of the 1970 Convention. During these first years of existence and faced with the growing scourge of illicit traffic, the importance of the Convention continued to grow. In addition, the imperatives of international cooperation and preventive measures specific to the Convention aroused the interest of States Parties, which then increased to 43 in 1980.
Another major advance took place in 1995 when the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT) adopted the Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects. This new instrument, requested by UNESCO, stipulates that all stolen cultural property must be returned. In parallel, the 1970 Convention continued to progress. On its 30th anniversary in 2000, the 1970 Convention had 90 States Parties. Such adhesion encourages States Parties to persuade more countries to accede, as well as to facilitate and promote the Convention’s implementation. In 2012 another step is taken with the creation of the Subsidiary Committee of the Meeting of States Parties to the Convention, which is composed of 18 States Parties elected for a four-year term who meet annually. The Subsidiary Committee promotes the objectives of the Convention, shares good practices and makes recommendations to combat the illicit traffic in cultural property. UNESCO is also partnering with other international partners, mainly the International Council of Museums (ICOM), International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) and the World Customs Organization (WCO) to strengthen the implementation of the Convention.
In 2015, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2199 that prohibited the trade in cultural goods from Iraq and Syria. This resolution is part of efforts to end the funding of violent extremism through the illicit trafficking of cultural heritage in times of conflict. It was followed by Resolution 2347 in 2017, which was the first United Nations resolution dedicated to the protection of cultural heritage in situations of armed conflict, and exemplifies the central role of UNESCO in the protection of cultural heritage and in the promotion of culture, dialogue, and sustainable development that contributes to the 2030 Agenda.
Training and cultural cooperation
In addition to the work reinforcing legal aspects, many practical tools are developed by UNESCO and its partners. These efforts regarding preventive and awareness-raising measures support and encourage the constant fight against the illicit trafficking in cultural property. For example, the Database on National Cultural Heritage Laws, the Object ID form and the Model Export Certificate are concrete initiatives to assist States in their efforts.
In order to help countries build their capacities, improve their national laws and create inventories of their collections, UNESCO regularly organizes national and regional workshops, in collaboration with national authorities and specialists in cultural heritage. The training sessions often include the involvement of police and customs forces allowing all participants to benefit through increased coordination. These also serve to educate auction houses and art dealers on the issue of due diligence, as well as tourists and the general public on the need to be vigilant about the cultural objects they acquire.
In an interconnected world, States Parties are sharing more information and thereby strengthening international cooperation to dismantle trafficking routes and facilitate the restitution of cultural objects. All countries are concerned and there is a substantial increase in the global awareness of the fight against illicit trafficking, also reflected in the media.
Returns and restitutions
The ratification of the Convention has an added value for requests for returns and restitutions. For example, in 2006 the Islamic Republic of Iran filed a claim against the Barakat Gallery in London for the restitution of a 5,000-year-old collection of antiquities that had been removed from Iran after illegal excavations. In 2007, the Court of Appeal noted that Iran and the United Kingdom had both ratified the 1970 Convention, and recognized that states must help each other to prevent the illegal movement of cultural objects. The result created a clear precedent which made it possible to use provisions of the Convention in future cases of the same nature.
The return or restitution of cultural property does not necessarily have to be resolved in court. The application of the provisions on restitution also allows the seizure of cultural property illegally imported on their arrival at the borders. Among recent returns or restitutions that have been resolved in this way were:
- The return of two statues and a carved stick from France to Peru in June 2019 ;
- The return of 26 Egyptian archaeological treasures from Switzerland in November 2018 ;
- The restitution of several antiquities seized by Canadian customs to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in November 2018.
The 50th anniversary of the 1970 Convention is an opportunity for UNESCO, the 140 States Parties, and many partners and stakeholders to celebrate its achievements, encourage more action and strengthen the capacities of States Parties to fight against illicit traffic. This year will raise awareness in favour of ethical trade in the art market, reinforced by legal and operational measures. At the same time, and while taking stock of the main challenges of the Convention, there will be the question of what are the directions for the years to come?
In 2020, as UNESCO launches a communication campaign and organizes events in all regions of the world, these will culminate in the celebration of the International Day against Illicit Traffic in Cultural Property on 14 November and an International Conference in Berlin, Germany, in November 2020. With the constant strengthening of its legal instruments, UNESCO continues to promote effective international cultural cooperation with its Member States. On this anniversary let us together celebrate 50 years of joint efforts to protect the cultural heritage of humanity.