On 26 July, 2012, officials from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) successfully returned ten Nok statues and one carved tusk to Nigeria. This important event for Nigerian cultural heritage came in the wake of an investigation carried out by the agency, in which ICOM was invited to participate and contribute its expertise.
The investigation followed the seizure of said objects by local customs authorities at a French airport in April 2010, where they were en route for exportation to the United States.
This procedure was facilitated by international cooperation between cultural institutions (ICOM and the Louvre Museum) and French and US legal authorities.
ICOM is recognised by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) as one of five original members of the group of experts in the fight against illicit traffic in cultural goods, and the only non-governmental organisation in that group.
ICOM first demonstrated its firm and unwavering commitment to the protection of cultural heritage in 2000, when it published the first of what is now known as the ICOM Red List series dedicated to cultural objects at risk: the Red List of African Archaeological Objects. The eleven ICOM Red Lists can be downloaded and are available in an online database.
ICOM is now renewing its commitment to protecting African cultural heritage at risk with the creation of a specific Red List for West Africa. The document is due for publication within the next year.
The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US Department of State is a longstanding partner of ICOM in the fight against illicit traffic in cultural goods and a strong supporter of ICOM Red Lists of Cultural Objects at Risk.
ICOM also assists museums through the Art and Cultural Mediation Programme. This Programme was developed in partnership with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and provides museums, States, individuals, indigenous peoples and collectors with an alternative dispute resolution process for complex negotiations such as restitutions, return or acquisition issues.