Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transport of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970)

The 1970 Convention, ratified in Italy in 1978, is the first international document aimed at combating the illicit trafficking of cultural property. To date it has been signed by 132 States.

The Convention considers “cultural property” to be the property designated by each State as important for archaeology, prehistory, history, literature, art or science, as listed in articles 1 and 4 of the Convention. It is aimed at

  • countering illicit imports and exports as well as the undue transfer of ownership of cultural property, one of the main causes of the impoverishment of cultural heritage;
  • ensuring, through the establishment of national services,
    • the drafting of draft legislative and regulatory texts in order to regulate the matter;
    • preparing and updating of a national inventory of public and private properties, the export of which would constitute a significant impoverishment of the national cultural heritage;
    • he development or creation of scientific and technical institutions (museums, libraries, archives, laboratories, ateliers, etc.) aimed at ensuring the conservation and enhancement of cultural heritage;
    • the control of archaeological excavations, conservation and protection of certain areas for possible future archaeological research;
    • the definition and respect of rules in compliance with the ethical principles of the convention that govern the relationships between the subjects involved.
    • educational action with respect to the cultural heritage of all States and to disseminate the contents of this Convention;
    • adequate publicity for any disappearance of a cultural property.

In this regard:

  • it establishes an export authorisation certificate for the property which must accompany the same in any transfer;
  • all the necessary measures to prevent the acquisition of illicitly exported cultural goods and inform the States involved;
  • it prohibits the import of cultural property stolen to a museum or public civil or religious monument, or a similar institution, located on the territory of another State Party and ensures the necessary measures are taken for the possible recovery and return of the stolen property;
  • regulates compliance with the provisions, including with the imposition of criminal or administrative sanctions;
  • participates in any international concerted operations between States Parties in the event of the depredation of archaeological or ethnological sites;
  • promotes educational, training and surveillance activities, including on the activity of antiques dealers;
  • raises public awareness of the value of cultural heritage and the risks of theft, illegal excavations and exports;
  • considers the forced export and transfer of cultural property
  • resulting directly or indirectly from the occupation of a country by a foreign power as illegal;
  • promotes the provision of national cultural heritage protection services with a sufficient budget, including through the creation of ad hoc funds;
  • requires States Parties to constantly update the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization regarding the activities carried out for the application of the Convention;
  • encourages collaboration between States Parties and UNESCO on issues relating to information, education as well as consultation of experts and coordination of good practices;
  • is open for accession by any State that is not a member of UNESCO;
  • may be reviewed by the UNESCO General Conference.