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


Memorandum submitted by UNIDROIT

  The visit to Rome, in connection with a study on illicit traffic in cultural objects, of the Select Commitee which you chair provided a most pleasant opportunity for the UNIDROIT Secretariat to welcome you to its headquarters, to explain the reasoning and mechanisms of the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects and to reply to your questions and those of other members of the Committee.

  It therefore came as an unpleasant surprise, upon reading the Minutes of Evidence of the Select Committee's Examination of Witnesses of 13 April (particularly questions 153 and 154) and 18 April (question 259), to find some of the UNIDROIT Secretariat's statements on the aforementioned occasion misrepresented. The fact that the overwhelming majority of those involved in the British art market are recommending that your Government accede to the UNIDROIT Convention can surely only render the views attributed to the Secretariat as regards the potential of the 1995 Convention more astonishing, less likely and, needless to say, incorrect.

  The Secretariat's reply to the question as to what the consequences would be for illicit traffic in the United Kingdom if your country did not accede to the UNIDROIT Convention was that the current situation, which is universally deplored by all actors on the art market (with the obvious exception of certain dealers), would remain unchanged. We feel bound to recall that this was the final question put at the end of a 50 minute session in the course of which the UNIDROIT Secretariat had been at pains to highlight how the Convention was instrumental in improving market ethics by means of the concept of "due diligence", the effect of which were already being felt independently of whether States ratified or acceded to the Convention or not.

  While the wording of question 153 of the report refers to requests for restitution or return under the UNIDROIT Convention, the UNIDROIT Secretariat in fact pointed out that this had not yet occurred; as we recall, no proceedings were instituted under the European Directive adopted in 1993, yet the United Kingdom was one of the first States to incorporate its provisions into national law. At all events, the preparatory work as well as the various commentaries to the UNIDROIT Convention clearly underscore the Convention's emphasis on prevention; it seeks in effect to obviate the need for requests for the restitution or return of stolen or illegally exported cultural objects by fostering greater awareness on the part of the purchaser prior to acquisition.

  The UNIDROIT Secretariat accordingly asks you, Sir, to correct the Minutes which, as they stand, throw discredit upon years of work by this Organisation and more than 70 participating States and anyway do not reflect Ms Schneider's allegedly frank language. We were surprised and distressed to find these few lines in the Minutes summing up the Select Committee's visit to UNIDROIT's headquarters, and we deeply regret to see the UNIDROIT Secretariat's statements, thus misrepresented, given as the grounds for the views which you, Sir, appear to have formed following our meeting.

  We regret that we were informed (by UNESCO) of the publication of the Minutes only last week and as a consequence were not in a position to react sooner.

  We confidently look forward to your rectification and wish the Select Committee every success in drafting its report.

June 2000

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