Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Annex 1


  1.  The UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970 was the first worldwide treaty on illicit traffic in cultural property. There are now 91 States party to that Convention.

  2.  However some States, including some leading market States (Netherlands, Germany, United Kingdom) argued that its system was too difficult to implement. Following consideration of these problems by a group of experts in 1983, UNESCO asked UNIDROIT (l'Institut international pour l'Unification du Droit privé, Rome) to prepare a convention which would complement the UNESCO Convention by dealing with the private law aspects of the illicit trade. It was adopted in 1995, has 22 signatories and 12 State Parties.

  3.  UNESCO now promotes both Conventions as instruments to hinder the international illicit trade in cultural objects. Ideally States would become party to both (as have Cambodia, China, Finland, Hungary, Italy and some others), but our principal aim is to get each of the major market States party to at least one of them so as to be publicly committed to the fight against illicit traffic.

  4.  The difference between them is as follows:

    —  UNESCO works on public law: requests are made through the diplomatic channel; the State requested then seizes the object and undertakes the necessary legal action to return it.

    —  UNIDROIT works on private law: the owner (where stolen) and the foreign State (where illegally exported) will sue the holder in the courts of the country of location: that State must provide a legal remedy for theft or illicit export of cultural property.

    —  UNESCO does not give a test for "good faith", leaving that to national systems of law to settle; UNIDROIT does give elements to be taken account of by judges in deciding whether someone is of good faith.

    —  UNIDROIT provides that clandestinely excavated antiquities are considered as stolen where that is consistent with national law of the place of excavation; UNESCO is silent on this point.

    —  UNESCO does not mention time limits for claims; UNIDROIT provides for limits of 50 (or 75 years in special cases) for claims for return, or within three years of knowledge of the location of the object.

  5.  Both Conventions

    —  do not affect penal law ie do not deal with punishment of offenders, only with the return of cultural property;

    —  are not retroactive;

    —  provide means of return for stolen and illegally exported cultural objects;

    —  allow for compensation to good faith purchasers where necessary (not necessary in all systems); and

    —  use the same definition of cultural objects, but UNESCO requires in addition that they have been designated by their national State.

April 2000

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 25 July 2000