Cultural properties are unique vectors for the recognition and promotion of the identity of peoples. Their circulation and movement helps to stimulate knowledge, cultural and scientific exchanges and to encourage dialogue between societies, creating the conditions for mutual respect and peace.
The illicit trafficking of these goods causes serious and often irreversible damage to humanity’s shared cultural heritage. The looting of archaeological pieces erases all traces of historical and scientific evidence that have accumulated over time.
Putting up to auction archaeological and historical sets of pieces raises deep emotion with the Member States of UNESCO, concerned about the sale of cultural objects that they consider to be part of their heritage. This dispersion is seen as a deprivation of an essential part of local cultures. Therefore, UNESCO Member States have called upon the Organization to support their efforts in restituting proposed pieces -- notably through public auction - on the grounds that they come from illegal excavations and have been subject to illegal exports from their countries of origin.
The Director-General would like once again to draw the attention of the art market to the very sensitive issue of trafficking of archaeological objects for which the legal origin is extremely difficult to prove. She appeals to the responsibility of professionals and to the strict application of their rules of conduct, in order to use all means at their disposal to check carefully the origin of pieces offered to buyers, in line with the principles and the spirit of the 1970 Conventions concerning measures to be taken in order to prohibit and prevent importing, exporting and transferring the ownership of cultural property as well as the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects.
In recent years, faced with an unprecedented global enthusiasm for purchasing cultural objects and increasing awareness of the legitimate claims of countries regarding the importance of safeguarding their heritage, the art market began to implement regulatory instruments – including codes of ethics - and instruments for better monitoring. Similarly, a promising dialogue between UNESCO, representatives of the art market and those responsible of protecting the heritage in different countries has started and will grow in the coming years.
The Director-General calls for a new step to be taken today so that gallery owners and representatives of auction houses make every effort to ensure that only cultural objects whose legal origin is indisputable are offered to buyers. The Director-General appeals to all those involved in the protection of heritage and its circulation to join UNESCO in its efforts to ensure respect for and implementation of the International Conventions.