UNESCO holds a unique round table on regulation, cooperation and diligence of professionals for cultural heritage protection

31 March 2016

On 30 March 2016 in Paris, France, in cooperation with the Conseil des Ventes Volontaires (CVV), the regulatory authority for operators of voluntary sales operators of chattels by public auction in France, UNESCO organised a pioneering round table consisting of major stakeholders and regulators of the art and antiquities market, including representatives of the major auction houses, museums, the World Customs Organization (WCO) and other international organisations, non-governmental organisations, national law enforcement agencies and relevant Ministries as well as cultural heritage experts and academia. The round table was opened by Mr Francesco Bandarin, the Assistant Director-General for Culture to UNESCO and Catherine Chadelat, the President of the CVV.

The event was divided into four main thematic sessions where the panelists discussed such issues as establishing the provenance of cultural objects from plundered archeological sites, diligence of art market professionals and market regulation to effectively fighting against illicit trade, challenges and prospects for the art market in the near future and the role of transit countries in fighting against illicit trade where the WCO presented on the role of Customs administrations in the prevention and investigation of this crime. In particular, the need to exchange information among the border agencies was highlighted along with the need for specialised training for Customs officers and awareness-raising on a more general level. In relation to concrete advances in the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural objects, a positive experience was shared by Switzerland that recently amended its Customs legislation to enhance regulation and management of its free zones and Customs warehouses to prevent smuggling and money laundering.

The speakers came to several important conclusions. First, e-commerce platforms and social media play a crucial role as a newly emerged trading ground for arts and antiquities; thus the cooperation between these stakeholders and the governmental agencies is critical in order to prevent illicit trade of cultural objects. Second, this market is not regulated; thus more efforts are needed from all stakeholders, which includes both the revision of the national legislation and adoption of the international legal instruments, such as the 1970 UNESCO Convention and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention, and proactive due diligence by the auction houses, art and antique collectors and museums, who are the final recipients of these objects. Third, close cooperation and exchange of information between law enforcement agencies, including Customs and Police, as well as awareness-raising and specialised trainings were identified as crucial to raise the capacity of these agencies in tackling this cross-border crime. And last but not least, in relation to the activities of armed groups, round table participants agreed that even one dollar in the hands of a terrorist is a dollar too much; thus, illicit trafficking and trade in antiquities for terrorism financing must be brought to a halt.

Additional information:

UNESCO round table documents