Customs officers are responsible for ensuring that imported and exported goods are properly identified, and seized if stolen or smuggled. The functions and legal powers of customs agencies vary from country to country. In 1950 the Customs Cooperation Council (now the World Customs Organization, or WCO) was established to secure "the highest degree of harmony and uniformity in customs systems."1 The functions of the WCO include proposing practical means of attaining this goal; preparing draft conventions and amendments to conventions and recom-mending their adoption by interested governments; making recommendations to ensure the uniform interpretation and application of conventions; ensuring the circulation of information regarding customs regulations and procedures; providing information or advice on customs matters to interested governments; and cooperating with other intergovernmental organizations as regards matters within its competence.

The illicit traffic in cultural objects was one of the issues addressed by the Nairobi Convention of 1977 on Mutual Administrative Assistance for the Prevention, Investigation, and Repression of Customs Offences. Annex 11 to the convention (Action Against Smuggling of Works of Art and Antiquities) noted "the growth in cases of smuggling, fraud and theft involving works of art and antiquities," invited members "to develop mutual administrative assistance in combatting smuggling and other fraud involving works of art and antiquities," and emphasized the importance of "cooper-ation with the International Criminal Police organization/INTERPOL and with the other authorities and organizations concerned."2

Questionnaire Survey of Customs Agencies

The survey of customs agencies was made possible by the generous assistance of the WCO, which distributed the questionnaire to its 142 member countries. This survey received responses from 45 national customs agencies from many parts of the world.

The categories selected for inclusion in Object ID were all approved by 89 percent or more of the respondents. Five categories, not selected for Object ID, scored more than 90 percent: these were Object Name (100%), Custodian of Object (96%), Object ID Number (94%), Estimated Value (93%), and Legal Status of Object (91%).

The Dutch Customs Policy and Legislation Directorate suggested that it would be useful to be able to record the WCO's Harmonized System (HS) Code, something which could be done as part of Type of Object. The Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System developed by the WCO consists of more than 5,000 groups of goods identified by a six-digit code, and incorporates definitions and rules for use.

A number of customs agencies attached letters of support to their responses to the survey. Revenue Canada wrote that it "supports the proposal to develop international documen-tation standards for the protection of cultural objects." The State Customs Committee of the Russian Federation also welcomed the initiative, as did the Hungarian Customs and Finance Guard, which saw it as important for preventing the illegal import and export of cultural objects. The Directorate of Customs of the Czech Republic believed that

the development of international guidelines, which will deal with the protection of cultural heritage of each nation, will improve the quality of cooperation among Customs Administrations in the field of combatting illegal cross-border trade with these cultural objects.

The Dutch Customs Policy and Legislation Directorate agreed that the "Protection of cultural objects is very important" and looked forward to the publication of the standard.

Table 9. Summary of Findings of Questionnaire Survey of Customs Agencies
Category of Information Percentage

Object Name 100
Type of Object 100

Distinguishing Features 98
Materials & Techniques 96
Measurements 96
Custodian of Object 96
Object ID Number 94
Estimated Value 93
Description 93
Subject 93
Maker 91
Photographs 91
Legal Status of Object 91

Inscriptions & Markings 89
Date or Period 89
Place of Origin/Discovery 89
Title 89
Related Written Material 84
Acquisition 84
Normal Location of Object 82
Cross Reference to Related Objects 82
Condition of Object 82
Date Documented 80

Recorder's Name 63

Object ID categories are in bold.



1 Customs Cooperation Council, 1953-93, Customs Cooperation Council, Brussels, 1993.

2 Annex XI of International Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance for the Prevention, Investigation and Repression of Customs Offences, Nairobi, 9 June 1977.


Protecting Cultural Objects in the Global Information Society — Copyright 1997 The J. Paul Getty Trust