C o m m o n w e a l t h
A s s o c i a t i o n o f
M u s e u m s
CAM Bulletin Number 1 - Jan. 1996
Advocacy Alert: New International Convention on Cultural Property
Ottawa, 7 December 1995 - Following several years of complex negotiations, a new international convention on the return of 'stolen or illegally exported cultural property' has been adopted.
The accord, which was coordinated by UNIDROIT, a multilateral organisation established to standardise the legal and commercial practices of member nations, was recently adopted by some 70 participating nations - including Canada - at a diplomatic conference held in Rome. The conference was also attended by observers from other nations and representatives of various international non-governmental organisations such as the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art and the International Bar Association. Curiously, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) did not participate.
The UNIDROIT Convention will come into effect once five participating nations ratify or accede to the agreement, and it will require each nation that has taken this formal action to return 'stolen' or 'illegally exported' cultural property to its country of origin. This is a controversial area of the accord, particularly for so-called art-market countries like the United States and many European nations, but it is seen as a great step forward for art-exporting nations and indigenous cultures such as Canada's first peoples. The Convention is not retroactive, however, so it will not pertain to material in current collections. There is also a 50-year statute of limitations on all claims.
Canada played a significant role in negotiating the accord, which complements Canadian Museums Association guidelines and advances the 1970 UNESCO Convention on cultural property. Unlike its predecessor, this latest agreement has the support of most European countries. However, it had yet to be ratified by any of the member nations, including Canada.
The federal Department of Justice plans to hold a series of country-wide consultations with interested parties - including museums - to determine if there is an interest in Canada acceding to the Convention. (To ratify the Convention, Canada will need to introduce amendments to the Cultural Property Export and Import Act.) The consultations will begin following a presentation by Valerie Hughes of the Department of Justice at the CMA's Legal Affairs and Management Symposium to be held in Ottawa, 1-2 March 1996, at the National Gallery of Canada. Ms Hughes, who was one of the speakers at the 1993 CMA Legal Affairs Symposium, has played an important role in the development of the agreement. People interested in this topic should attend this year's event to receive an in-depth briefing on the implications of the Convention for museums.
The report was received from Canada and illustrates how it is being handled there. Members may wish to contact the appropriate bodies in their own countries for specific information and to encourage ratification as suitable to their own situation. The convention does not go far enough as far as plundered nations are concerned but it may be advantageous to put this convention into effect as a forward although not fully satisfactory step.