Latvia to enter UNESCO '70 and UNIDROIT '95 Conventions (2)

01 May, 2017 Blog


While Latvia is moving towards ratification of two basic conventions (Convention or to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property and 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects), that regulate movement of cultural goods, Europe is already looking one step further. Council of Europe is currently developing a new convention. The purpose of this new Convention is to prevent and combat the destruction of, damage to, and (international) trafficking in cultural property.  It provides for the criminalization of certain acts and also aims to strengthen crime prevention and the criminal justice response to  all  criminal  offences relating to cultural property.


We all know, criminal mind is always one step ahead of existing regulatory framework and finds more and more ways how to circumvent existing law are used. It seems that, currently Council of Europe is trying to find a consensus for criminal convention that in future will serve as tool to strengthen two older international agreements with somewhat functioning penalizing system, for which each Member state will be responsible.  Convention will oblige its member states not only criminalize unlawful acts against cultural heritage, but also synchronize understanding of them.


Offenses mentioned in this convention cover much wider scope of activities than UNESCO 1970 Convention and UNIDROIT 1995 Convention. There are two main upgrades in the convention – attempt to define destruction of cultural property when its done as a part of terrorist activities and responsibility of a buyer, that where not present in previous regulations. Among activities to be synchronized as criminal offenses in all member states are:  theft and other forms of unlawful appropriation, unlawful excavation and removal, illegal importation and acquisition or placing on the market, falsification of documents, other offences related to the trafficking in cultural property, destruction and damaging and what is interesting also travelling abroad for the purpose of terrorism in order to commit an offence relating to cultural property, aiding or abetting the commission of a criminal offence referred to in this Convention also constitutes a criminal offence.


Most likely, the definition of protectable cultural heritage will stay the same as defined in article I of UNESCO 1970 Convention, but the definition of immovable cultural property include any monument, group of buildings, site, or structure of other kind, whether situated on land or underwater, which is, on religious or secular grounds, specifically designated or defined by any Party to this Convention as being of importance for archeology, prehistory, ethnology, history, art or science or listed in accordance with Article 1 and Article 11 (paragraphs 2 or 4) of the 1972 UNESCO Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.


The Council's of Europe Convention is still under development, with an optimistic plan to finish its draft version within two years. At the moment its working version is relatively harsh, suggesting criminalizing almost all illegal activities against cultural objects.

It is worth mentioning that the convention tends to put responsibility of illegal placement of a cultural object in the market for both seller and actual owner of the object. Significantly - regulation also provides for the buyer's responsibility, purchasing items with unclear ownership history, or provenance, stating that the buyer is responsible for due diligence, for instance, checking available lost and stolen objects database to see if the object does not appear in a list of missing or stolen artworks. Such regulations have already been included in German law, for which there is an active discussion in other art market countries. Also it expected that the convention will oblige the secondary art market players (auction houses, dealers, antique shops, etc.) to conduct transactions registry, but for Internet-based sellers, to engage in illicit cultural movement prevention through transaction monitoring and reporting of suspicious transactions. Therefore all players in to the market should be aware of changes coming and are kindly suggested to keep records of transactions of their precious objects clear already now.



Kate Zilgalve

Consulting Expert

State Inspection of Heritage Protection of the Republic of Latvia



P.S. by

The updates on the question are being published every two months with the next one on the 1st July 2017.