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

General Detail

General Information

  1. Type: Convention
  2. Date of signature:
  3. Place of signature: Paris, France
  4. Depositary:
  5. Date of entry into force: 24/04/1972


Good Governance

Sub category

Cultural Property



What is it about?

The 1970 UNESCO Convention quickly came into force and in 2003 had been ratified by more than 90 States. Despite its popularity, however, is has often been criticized for offering few tools to stop the trade in stolen and looted art. Under this Convention, State Parties recognize that the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property is one of the main causes of the impoverishment of the cultural heritage of the countries of origin of such property and that international co-operation constitutes one of the most efficient means of protecting each country's cultural property. In order to limit such trade, State parties agree to provide for measures ensuring that exported goods can be traced and agree to improve controls to prevent the import of goods using fraudulent methods. It has been criticised that member State are able to keep their own national laws regarding the protection of cultural property, that the text utilizes broad and unspecific language, and that no specific enforcement mechanisms are provided. As most of the member States are “source” countries, the effectiveness of the present Convention is further limited. Another criticism stems from the fact that the UNESCO Convention only provides protection for art stolen from an inventory and public collection. Private collections and indigenous art are not usually covered.

Why is it relevant?

This Convention was the first international instrument related to the protection of cultural property. As it did not have the entire impact desired, UNESCO requested that the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT) draft a new treaty detailing minimum standards that could be commonly accepted (UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Property, Rome 24 June 1995).

Additional Information

State parties are required to offer periodic reports to the UNESCO General Conference indicating measures that they have adopted to implement this Convention.


Country ratifications

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