As an advisor to UNESCO and UNIDROIT, ICOM took part in the development of two international conventions that play a crucial role in protecting cultural heritage from illicit traffic: the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, adopted in Paris on 14 November, 1970 and the UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects, adopted in Rome on 24 June, 1995.
The countries that have adopted the 1970 Convention commit themselves to preventing museums in their territory from purchasing illegally exported cultural goods, to prohibiting the import of cultural goods stolen from a museum or public institution in another country that has signed the Convention, and to seizing and returning stolen or exported cultural goods to their country of origin.
The UNIDROIT Convention of 1995 completes the 1970 text, in particular concerning private law. One of the main clauses provides that any owner of a stolen cultural good must return it. This rule thus places full responsibility on buyers to make sure that the objects put up for sale reached the market legally.
The normative framework provided by these two international Conventions could be effective if the number of State Parties was greater. Today, however, few countries have signed the agreement, and continued efforts are needed to fight illicit traffic. This is why ICOM, through its National Committees, highly encourages the ratification of these Conventions.
ICOM also benefits from the support of police and customs agents worldwide. In Brussels, on 25 January, 2000, ICOM and the World Customs Organisation (WCO) signed an Official Cooperation Agreement with INTERPOL.
To give just one example, in 2006, more than 600 pre-Columbian artefacts from Ecuador, stolen and exported to the United States, were seized and restituted thanks to close collaboration between ICOM, INTERPOL and the national police involved.
ICOM also collaborates with national law enforcement agencies, such as the Central Office for the Fight against Traffic in Cultural Goods (OCBC) in France, the Direction de la lutte contre la criminalité contre les biens (DJB) Art Service in Belgium, the Federal Office of Police in Switzerland (FedPol), Arma dei Carabinieri in Italia, Scotland Yard Metropolitan Police, Art and Antiquities Unit, the FBI Art Theft Program, and the Colombian National Police.