1995 Unidroit Convention

The Convention

UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects (Rome, 1995)

At the beginning of the 1980s, UNESCO recognized that the principles formulated in Art. 7b (ii) of the UNESCO Convention of 1970 fail to respond sufficiently to private and public law issues raised on return and restitution of cultural objects. UNESCO request was to develop a uniform minimum body of private law rules for the international art trade to complement the public law provisions of the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Therefore in 1984 it gave the Unidroit Institute for Unifying Private Law a research assignment from which the draft for a convention emerged in 1994. This draft was discussed one year later at an international diplomatic conference in Rome and issued in revised form as the «UNIDROIT Convention of 24 June 1995 on Stolen and Illegally Exported Cultural Objects». Switzerland played a leading and mediating role in both the preliminary work and the conference.

To date, 22 nations have signed the UNIDROIT Convention of 1995, 11 countries have ratified it and 13 countries have acceded to the Convention.

What is it?

The UNIDROIT Convention of 1995 laid down regulations which apply for restitution and return of cultural objects between two contract states. These regulations are basically self-executing, i.e., legal claims arise directly without the regulations having to be implemented into national law. The contract states thus operate on a unified basis regarding civil and administrative law. The Convention is not retroactive, i.e., its regulations apply for each contract state only from the date of ratification.
The UNIDROIT Convention of 1995 essentially covers the following:

  • Stolen or illegally excavated cultural objects shall be returned to the owners (nation, natural or legal persons). The good-faith buyer of such a cultural object has a claim to reasonable compensation to the extent that he can prove that he dealt with due care in buying the object.
  • Cultural objects exported illicitly shall be restitute upon request by the country of origin if it can prove that the illegal export would have an essential impact on scientific or cultural interests or that the object is of essential cultural significance for the country of origin.
  • The period of limitations on a claim for restitution or return basically amounts to three years relatively, i.e., since the knowledge of the cultural object’s location and possessor, and 50 years absolutely.

For more information

This information has been taken and produced from the official website of the UNIDROIT Secretariat. For the complete text of the convention and other related documents, click on www.unidroit.org

More information regarding the national application of this convention can be obtained from the national trade associations which can be accessed through this website or from the CINOA secretariat.