Doc. 8250

28 October 1998

Unidroit Convention on stolen or illegally exported cultural objects

Recommendation 1372 (1998)

Reply from the Committee of Ministers

adopted at the 645th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies (15 and 18 October 1998)

The Committee of Ministers has noted with interest Recommendation 1372 on the Unidroit Convention on stolen or illegally exported cultural objects, adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly on 26 May 1998. The Deputies drew the recommendation to the attention of member States' governments at their 634th meeting (3-4 June 1998).

The Committee of Ministers draws the Parliamentary Assembly's attention to the terms of reference given to the Cultural Heritage Committee at the Deputies' 573rd meeting from 9–11 September 1996, which were "to promote dialogue between the states, European institutions and international organisations involved in combating illicit trafficking in works of art and protecting moveable heritage items, and to present it with any appropriate proposal with a view to establishing close co-operation between member States in liaison with the European institutions and international governmental and non-governmental organisations concerned".

The Cultural Heritage Committee is currently carrying out this mandate by organising a series of sectoral meetings which will culminate in an international forum. A high level policy meeting, under the auspices of the cultural and natural heritage campaign in 1999 and 2000, will provide an opportunity to consider the political aspects of the issue and whether it would be appropriate to propose to the Committee of Ministers the establishment of a regular intergovernmental dialogue on the subject.

The Committee of Ministers also recalls that in the legal field it has long been concerned with protecting cultural property against any criminal or other forms of illicit conduct. Over the years numerous initiatives have been launched in this field. One of these was the 13th colloquy on European law held in Delphi in 1983 on the international legal protection of cultural property. Although many years have since elapsed, it can rightly be said that the work of this colloquy represented a milestone.

Another step was taken in the late 1970s with the establishment of a committee of experts to draw up a legal instrument to deal with this issue. This led to the opening for signature, in Delphi in 1985, of the European Convention on offences relating to cultural property, which was signed by Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Liechtenstein, Portugal and Turkey, but was not ratified. This setback resulted from the convention's failure to deal with the acquisition of stolen property in good faith, an issue which was – and still is – at the centre of any attempts to encourage the protection of cultural property.

The issue was therefore subsequently taken up by Unidroit, which, with great skill and with Council of Europe assistance, drafted a convention with global coverage. The Committee of Ministers is therefore ready to do all it can to give political encouragement to the Unidroit convention and to the systematic implementation of all its provisions.

Finally, the Committee of Ministers wishes to point out that to a certain extent the current intergovernmental activities undertaken under its auspices in the criminal field in general, and those of corruption and organised crime in particular, reflect the Assembly's concerns. However, the Committee of Ministers' current priorities, as laid down by the Second Summit, do not leave much scope for a more specific activity. Moreover, notwithstanding the importance that it attaches to this issue, the Committee of Ministers has to acknowledge that its priorities regarding crime policy are currently focussed on other areas, as can be seen in its Recommendation No. R (96) 8 to member States on crime policy in Europe in a time of change.