The 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property

The 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property is more commonly known as the 1970 UNESCO Convention, or sometimes as the Paris Convention.

The 1970 UNESCO Convention requires its States Parties to take action in these main fields:

Preventive measures, including:

  • Inventories,
  • export certificates,
  • monitoring trade,
  • imposition of penal or administrative sanctions,
  • educational campaigns, etc.

Restitution provisions:

  • The State Party “of origin” may request other States Parties to carry out appropriate steps to recover and return cultural property imported into that State after this Convention entered into force in both States concerned. However, that the requesting State shall pay just compensation to an innocent purchaser or to a person who has valid title to that property.
  • Less directly, and subject to domestic legislation, there are also provisions on restitution and cooperation.

International cooperation framework:

  • The idea of strengthening cooperation among and between States Parties is present throughout the Convention. In cases where cultural heritage is in jeopardy from pillage, Article 9 provides the possibility for more specific undertakings, such as import and export controls.

Provisions against looting in World War II

A British jeep passes a sign warning against looting on the outskirts of Ravenna, Italy, 7 December 1944.

© Photo by Bowman (Sgt), No 2 Army Film & Photographic Unit. Photograph NA 20577 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums, via Wikimedia Commons.

In addition, the Operational Guidelines (paragraph 12) recommend that:

stylized image of white balanced scales on a circular royal blue background

To avoid the problem of specifically identifying an object of archaeological or paleontological significance, it has been demonstrated that one useful approach is to make a clear assertion of State ownership of undiscovered objects, so that the State Party can request its return under the provisions of the 1970 Convention and/or by recourse to any other relevant means. This is particularly important in the case of an undisturbed archaeological site that has not yet been looted: every object in that site, still to be found, is important for the preservation of cultural heritage and the understanding and knowledge of the archaeological site’s full meaning and context. Consequently, States Parties are encouraged to follow best practice in designating the cultural property that is protected under their national law in accordance with these characteristics and all States Parties are encouraged to recognize this sovereign assertion for the purposes of the Convention.

Scroll to Top