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.