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Protecting cultural property

Protecting endangered cultural property  
Photo: © Colourbox.de / Phaitoon Sutunyawatchai

Illegal trade of cultural property

The UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property from 14 November 1970 formulates the fundamental principles for the international protection of cultural property. This includes minimum provisions on measures to combat illegal trade as well as measures to protect our own cultural property, to prevent unlawful export, to protect against the illicit import of cultural property from other States Parties and to issue requests for return to the country of origin. In 1978, UNESCO created an intergovernmental committee to promote the repatriation of illegally obtained cultural property, which has since also developed an ethical codex for art traders. Austria ratified the Convention in 2015 (Federal Law Gazette III 139/2015) and in 2016, enacted the Federal Act on the Return of Unlawfully Trafficked Cultural Property (Kulturgüterrückgabegesetz – KGRG; Federal Law Gazette I No. 19/2016) as a means of fulfilling this Convention.

© Unidroit

The Unidroit Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects Stolen adopted on 25 June 1995 regulates the return and repatriation of stolen and unlawfully exported cultural property. As the 1970 UNESCO Convention only relates to intergovernmental and not matters of private law, thereby excluding requests for return from individual persons, UNESCO commissioned the “International Institute for the Unification of Private Law” (Unidroit) in Rome to produce a supplement to the Convention to address this.

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  • Text des Übereinkommens (englische Fassung)