Museums have no borders,
they have a network

International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods

International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods

The International Observatory is a worldwide cooperation platform to share information on and promote cooperation in the fight against illicit traffic.

The Observatory’s website

How it works

The Observatory is an innovative tool serving as an information databank gathering on its bilingual website an unprecedented amount of resources regarding illicit traffic in cultural goods and the means to fight it. As the major hub on this topic, it centralises and disseminates all kind of instruments and materials for international public understanding and policy orientation.

Besides its potential to compile essential information on the topic, the Observatory also works as a permanent international cooperative platform. It reinforces a strong network of international partners including international organisations, law enforcement agencies, research institutions and external expert stakeholders. In this regard, it holds annual meetings meant to share information among key partners.

Through collaboration and dissemination of information, the major objectives of the Observatory are to improve monitoring methods, data gathering and scientific research and to foster the exchange of good practices. It also plays an important role in raising awareness about illicit traffic in cultural goods.


The Observatory generates knowledge and federates expertise. The transdisciplinary publication Countering Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods: The Global Challenge of Protecting the World’s Heritage contributes to the achievement of these goals, by providing articles by researchers and academics, museum and heritage professionals, archaeologists, legal advisors, curators, and journalists. It includes case studies on looting in specific countries, with the primary aim of explaining the nature of the antiquities trade, the sources of the traffic, and the solutions at hand.

The Observatory’s publication 

Roots of the project

The ICOM’s International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods was launched in January 2013 on the initiative of ICOM and with the financial support of the Prevention and Fight against Crime Programme of the European Commission’s Directorate-General Home Affairs.

The Observatory was conceived in the spirit of the article 17 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of cultural Property. This article mentions the possibility for relevant organisations to conduct studies on matters relating to the illicit movement of cultural property. It aims at initiating a continuous process of extensive research and reporting.