UNESCO is one of the most active international organizations in the areas of combatting illicit trafficking of cultural goods and restitution of cultural properties.

Combating illicit trafficking 

As regards combatting illicit trafficking, UNESCO encourages countries around the world to adopt the 1970 UNESCO Convention and related instruments, including the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention and, more recently, the 2015 UNESCO Operational Guidelines.

At strategic level, UNESCO launches emergency actions in order to protect cultural heritage sites in danger as result of natural disasters, armed conflicts or terrorist attacks. In most of cases, a mission to assess damages is followed by an action plan for the preservation of existing heritage and the reconstruction of such damages. These activities are convened under the umbrella of three UNESCO Cultural Conventions: the 1954 Convention, the already mentioned 1970 Convention and the 1972 Convention.

UNESCO emergency actions have been developed specially in the following countries:

UNESCO also organizes capacity building activities (seminars, workshops, training courses) in order to facilitate and promote the practical application of UNESCO legal instruments and initiatives. These activities are organized around the world, including the following regions: 

A wide range of awareness raising initiatives are also disseminated by UNESCO, including publications, videos and posters.

Restitution of cultural property

In cases where international conventions are not applicable, UNESCO Member States may request the assistance of the Intergovernmental Committee for the restitution of cultural objects. The Committee is composed of 22 UNESCO Member States mandated over a period of four years. Although is not a mandatory body, the Committee Recommendations are highly considered in order to reach an agreement in the course of bilateral negotiations among the Member States concerned. The Committee may also facilitate mediation and conciliation among such Member States, at their request.

Lastly, in order to protect cultural goods against ill tic trafficking UNESCO works in close partnership with other International and European institutions and bodies, including UNODC, UNIDROIT, Interpol, ICOM, WCO-RILO WE, the European Commission and the European External Action Service.

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