International Day against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property
Held every year on 14 November, the International Day against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property reminds the world that theft, looting and illicit trafficking of cultural property takes place in every country, robbing people of their culture, identity and history, and that we have to work together to combat this crime.
Illicit trafficking of cultural property has many causes, and ignorance and poor ethics are at its very root. Illicitly traded cultural property is often transferred either through illicit markets worldwide or through licit markets such as auctions, including through the Internet. People, governments, the art-market and institutions can do their part to fight this by raising awareness, being informed and ethical when buying and selling art and cultural objects, enacting and respecting laws, and protecting cultural heritage and property.
UNESCO first adopted 14 November as the International Day against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property during its 40th General Conference in 2019, with the aim of drawing more attention to this crime and the ways to combat it, as well as to highlight the importance of international cooperation and proactive measures through the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970). This Convention, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020, provides an international framework for the prevention of theft and looting and the return and the restitution of stolen cultural property, in parallel with other advances in the fight against illicit trafficking. It is important that every buyer complies with the required due diligence when verifying the provenance of cultural property acquired in order to put an end to the illicit trafficking of cultural property.
We must all join together to fight illicit trafficking of cultural property.
MESSAGE FROM THE DIRECTOR-GENERAL
"The return of 17,000 works of art to Iraq and the voluntary handover to Guatemala of a Mayan stela plundered several decades ago are recent and significant testimony to the impact of our commitment."
— Audrey Azoulay, Director General, Message on the occasion of International Day against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property
2021 MESSAGES FROM UNESCO'S KEY PARTNERS
The illicit trafficking of cultural property is a global problem which impoverishes the countries of origin and fuels money laundering, tax evasion and finances terrorism. As Europe is a major destination and transit market for cultural property, the European Commission, in close cooperation with UNESCO and market players, will present an Action Plan to increase transparency, traceability and confidence."
Mr Margaritis Schinas, Vice-President of the European Commission
The European Union and UNESCO are leading the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property. Joining our forces is crucial to protect cultural heritage. New technologies are an important and new vector for this traffic. The Internet, research and innovation can help us improve the traceability of cultural property, the search for their origin. They are therefore also allies.
Ms Catherine Magnant, Deputy Director for Culture, Creativity and Sport; Head of the Cultural Policy Unit in the European Commission Directorate General for Education and Culture
All of humanity loses when the illicit trade in cultural property is allowed to flourish, because it robs communities of their heritage. We believe part of the solution lies in empowering the people who care for that heritage not only to protect it but also to ensure it remains accessible and beneficial to everyone. With UNESCO our joint initiatives are doing this, whether by reducing the risk of looting during times of crisis, unlocking the potential of collections to enrich lives and drive change, or engaging young people in Africa in essential conservation efforts. After all, cultural property is safest when all cultural heritage is valued as the human right it is.
Mr Webber Ndoro, Director-General, ICCROM (International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property)
No region is untouched by illicit trafficking of cultural goods. Everywhere, museums are concerned because they can be targets of thefts, but at the same time, they have experts on the objects who can help investigators protect cultural heritage. ICOM and the museum community are fully committed to fight this traffic and working hand in hand with UNESCO to make it a priority.
Ms. Sophie Delepierre, Head of Heritage Protection Department, International council of Museums (ICOM)
From the creation of INTERPOL’s stolen works of art database in 1995 to the launch this year of our first mobile app, ID-Art – all of our tools and initiatives share a common foundation in the 1970 UNESCO Convention. UNESCO’s pioneering role in this area continues to this day as we work together to protect humanity’s common heritage.
Mr Corrado Catesi, Coordinator of INTERPOL’s Works of Art unit
UNODC and UNESCO deliver as one to protect our common precious heritage and fight against illicit trafficking in cultural property: “Stealing from the past is destroying the future.” Defending the world’s cultural heritage means keeping it out of the hands of traffickers, dismantling their operations and bringing them to justice. Let us work together to make better use of the tools at our disposal, to protect our past, and with it our future.
Ms. Ghada Waly, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
Back in October 2000, the World Customs Organization (WCO) and UNESCO concluded a Memorandum of Understanding on countering illicit trafficking of cultural objects. Based on this solid foundation, I am delighted to see that this partnership brings very concrete results. The WCO works closely both with UNESCO Headquarters and its regional and national offices around the globe to raise awareness on illicit trafficking of cultural objects and train Customs officers and other law enforcement personnel through its specialised training, codenamed PITCH (Preventing Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Heritage). These efforts have already resulted in numerous seizures and restitutions, and we hope that with years to come, we will be able to bring this global scourge to a halt.
Mr Stefan Kirsch, WCO Deputy Director for Enforcement and Compliance SubDirectorate
The 1995 UNIDROIT Convention complements and strengthens the 1970 UNESCO Convention and addresses issues of private law not covered by the 1970 Convention, which is a public law instrument. Since then, UNESCO and UNIDROIT have worked closely together to support States in strengthening their normative and operational framework for the protection of heritage and the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property. In particular, the two organizations have developed Model Provisions defining State ownership of undiscovered cultural property.
Ms Marina Schneider, Principal Legal Officer and Treaty Depositary at UNIDROIT