It is planed that in 2017 Latvia will ratify two major international conventions -UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property and UNIDROIT 1995 Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects. Both conventions aim to protect cultural property against theft and illegal export. Although Latvia is not considered an active state of art market accession to conventions is carried out at a time when illegal trade of cultural property is considered a significant international problem.
The oldest of two documents - UNESCO 1970 Convention, that now has 131 member state, provides the basic framework for international protection of cultural property and recovery of illegally exported cultural objects. Under this convention each member state is responsible for implementation of national regulation undertaking the necessary measures to:
1) prevent museums and similar institutions within their territories from acquiring cultural property originating in another State Party which has been illegally exported;
2) prohibit the import of cultural values which have been stolen from a museum, religious or secular monument of similar public institution, provided that such property is documented in an inventory of that institution;
3) recognize claims for recovery of lost or stolen cultural object.
UNESCO 1970 Convention regulates return of objects that have been listed in an inventory of public institutions such as museums and libraries, but does not provide protection for objects that have been taken from private owners, or, for example, unidentified archeological sites.
This "gap" is covered by the historically latest document – UNIDROIT 1995 Convention that applies to claims of an international character for restitution of cultural objects and return of illegally exported cultural objects. First of all, member states of the convention are obliged to recognize these international claims, but restitution is done, if the requesting state establishes that the removal of the object from its territory impairs one or more of following interests:
a) the physical preservation of the object or of its context;
b) the integrity of a complex object;
c) the preservation of information of, for example, a scientific or historical character;
d) the traditional or ritual use of the object by a tribal or indigenous community, or establishes that the object is of significant cultural importance for the requesting state.
This means that in contrast to UNESCO 1970 Convention UNIDROIT 1995 Convention is directly applicable in the court, when the restitution claim between two states arises. It applies not only to cultural property listed in a public inventory but much wider scope of objects.
In October 2016 a meeting between Latvian delegation led by the Minister of Culture Dace Melbārde, Head of State Inspection for Heritage protection Juris Dambis and Secretary General of UNESCO Latvian National Commission Baiba Moļņika and UNIDROIT Secretary-General Jose Angelo Estrella Faria and his Adviser of cultural heritage conservation matters Marina Schneider took place in Rome, Italy. Jose Angelo Estrella Faria informed about the procedures to be carried out and taken into account at the time of ratification and implementation of UNIDROIT 1995 Convention, highlighting that the actual implementation of the Convention calls for close cooperation with Ministry of Interior, National Police and customs.
At the moment, State Inspection of Heritage Protection prepares draft legislations and impact assessments for both conventions. Readers of Artlaw.online will be regularly updated on progress of ratification of both conventions in 2017.
State Inspection for Heritage Protection of the Republic of Latvia