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The UNESCO and UNIDROIT Conventions

As evidence of the achievements of the human race and as a source of information and education, the world's cultural heritage must be preserved and transferred to future generations.

However, our cultural heritage is threatened every day; the pillage of archaeological sites and the theft of objects from museums are increasing on an unprecedented scale. Now, no country is free from this danger.

Professionals may protect themselves against theft and plunder by adopting the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums, by putting into place a systematic inventory of collections and by improving security norms. At present, we would like to emphasise the importance of international legal instruments such as the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property and the UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects adopted in Rome on June 29, 1995.

The 1970 UNESCO Convention declares as illegal the import, export or transfer of ownership of cultural property. By ratifying this Convention, each State Party undertakes to adopt the necessary measures:
a) to prevent museums within their territories from acquiring cultural property which has been illegally exported;
b) to prohibit the import of cultural property stolen from a museum or a public
institution after the entry into force of the Convention;
c) at the request of the State of origin, to recover and return any such cultural property stolen and imported.

The UNESCO Convention of 1970 has no retroactive effect; it only enters into effect on the day of its official ratification.

The UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects is a complement to the UNESCO Convention. Perhaps the most important clause in the Convention is the principle that anyone with a stolen item in his/her possession must in all cases restore it. This rule forces buyers to check that the goods have come onto the market legally, otherwise they will have to be returned.

The UNESCO Convention of 1970 and the UNIDROIT Convention enable the preservation of cultural heritage and consequently the memory of humankind. They are a potent weapon in the fight against illicit traffic. Thus ICOM urges its National Committees to encourage their governments to ratify these Conventions.

For more information on the UNESCO Convention contact :

Division des objets culturels et du patrimoine immatériel
Section des musées et des objets culturels
Division of Cultural Objects and Intangible Heritage
Section of Museums and Cultural Objects
Tel. +33 (0)1 45 68 44 04
Email: e.planche@unesco.org
1, rue Miollis
75732 Paris Cedex 15

For more information on the UNIDROIT contact :
Ms. Marina Schneider
Via Panisperna 28
00184 Rome
Tel: (+39) 06 69 62 11
Fax : (+39) 06 69 94 13 94
Email: unidroit.rome@unidroit.org


Updated: 22 February 2010