Illicit trafficking in cultural goods is, as other types of illicit traffics, a complex, vast and multifaceted issue.
The illicit trafficking of cultural property can take different forms, involve multiple parties and serve diverse purposes, depending on the geographical, socio-economic and political context. Illegal trade in art or archaeological objects contravenes national or international legal instruments. The term “illicit traffic in cultural goods” can therefore address a wide range of practices, depending on the national and international legislation in force:
Museums must be active players in the fight against illicit traffic and should adopt rules in terms of the acquisition and transfer of collections, according to The ICOM Ethics Code for Museums.
ICOM’s International Committees contribute to this mission by training their personnel to protect heritage, offering tools to facilitate inventories of collections and publishing international guidelines for security.
Thanks to its international network of professionals, ICOM is now recognised by many national and international organisations as one of the main players in the fight against illicit traffic in cultural property.
The collaboration between ICOM and its partners includes the sharing of information and experiences, the organisation of awareness-raising campaigns, the development of training programmes for law enforcement authorities, and the dissemination of ICOM publications on illicit traffic to these authorities.
The Observatory is a long-term international cooperative platform network between law enforcement agencies, research institutions and other external expert stakeholders; an information databank for the network and the public through a Website and a triennial Global Report and an innovative tool that will contribute to preventing and fighting the illegal trade in cultural property and related crimes at both national and international levels.
The international awareness-raising efforts made by ICOM and its partners to highlight the importance of protecting the cultural heritage of civilizations against illicit traffic has positive consequences.
The international standard, Object Identification (Object ID), makes the identification of endangered objects easier.
The One Hundred Missing Objects collection presents a selection of stolen works of art in a given region of the world.
The ICOM Red Lists classify the endangered categories of objects in some countries or regions of the world.
These tools are transmitted to the police and customs officials worldwide through INTERPOL and the WCO. They are also distributed to museums, auction houses and art dealers.