UNESCO calls for universal ratification of the 1970 convention, following the example set by Key Art Market countriesParis - UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura today congratulated Japan for its ratification of the 1970 Convention on the Prevention of the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.
Japan follows the United Kingdom and precedes Switzerland, which is expected to follow suit in 2003, and which, like the other two is an important ally in the struggle against illicit traffic.
"The ratification of countries like Great Britain, Japan, and Switzerland is fundamental, given their leading role on the world art market. I would further call on all States to follow these examples and ratify, in turn, this essential text," declared Mr Matsuura. "The example of Afghanistan reminds us that each work of art contains part of a nation's soul and that the renaissance of a country also requires the restitution of its stolen art."
The Japanese government will deposit its instrument of ratification at UNESCO Headquarters today at 3pm. The Convention will go into effect in Japan in three months time, on December 9, 2002.
The Convention, adopted by UNESCO's General Conference in November 1970, was the first global legal instrument for the protection of cultural property against pillage and illegal sales, and which recognized that such goods could not be considered as ordinary merchandise. The United Kingdom, which deposited its instrument of acceptance on July 31, 2002, Japan and, in the near future, Switzerland - three key countries in the international art trade - join 93 other States Parties to the Convention.
Within the framework of the current UN Year for Cultural Heritage (2002) UNESCO has launched a campaign to encourage all countries to ratify all of the Organization's conventions dealing with cultural heritage, especially the convention of 1970. Theft, illegal export and trafficking in cultural property is today in the hands of criminal gangs whose reach and financial means extend well beyond national borders. This traffic is an international problem which touches all States, and eradicating it will require a global effort. The more countries that join the Convention, the more efficient it will be.
Interpol, the international police organization, which works with UNESCO in the struggle against this problem, says that illicit trafficking of art works is as lucrative as trafficking in arms and drugs. Although it is difficult to measure the scope of art trafficking, annual losses have been estimated at around five billion dollars, not to mention the "cultural" loss of works by masters such as by Breughel, Vlaminck, Goya, Titian and Turner.
In 2000, for example, Interpol recorded more than 27,000 art thefts in Italy, 3,000 in Russia and 1,000 in Greece, amongst others. Such crimes also occur in developing countries, with 122 thefts in Mexico in that year, 221 in Ecuador, and 59 in Argentina.
To be most effective, the struggle against illicit traffic of cultural property cannot be limited to the restitution of stolen or illicitly exported objects that have been recovered. Adequate measures to prevent such traffic must also be put into place: illegal excavations, for example, are common-place, and States should adopt legislation to prevent such activities, along with the illegal import and export of cultural goods. Thorough inventories also need to be established and efficient security systems installed, to facilitate the work of customs officers and police.
UNESCO is not alone in the battle. Apart from Interpol, it also collaborates with the International Council of Museums (ICOM), the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT) and the World Customs Organisation (WCO).
Contact: Lucía Iglesias Kuntz
Bureau of Public Information, Editorial Section
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