The 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects and other international legal instruments on illicit trade lay down laws for the restitution of stolen cultural objects and the return of illegally exported cultural objects. In particular, it defines clandestinely excavated objects, and specifies that illegally excavated objects are considered to be stolen (and thus fall under the body of law dealing with stolen objects). It also sets out a time frame within which private owners or States can apply for restitution of their objects – 50 years and within 3 years of knowledge of the location of the object and identification of its possessor. Key principles are:
- “The possessor of a cultural object which has been stolen shall return it”;
- It sets out the possibility of compensation paid to the possessor of the stolen object where care was taken to avoid acquiring stolen cultural property; criteria for the establishment of diligence include circumstances of acquisition, character of parties involved, price paid, consultation of a register of stolen cultural objects;
- An illegally exported cultural object is to be returned if the object is of significant cultural importance for the requesting State;
- It sets out the possibility of compensation paid to the possessor of the illegally exported object where care was taken to avoid acquiring illegally exported cultural property: criteria for establishing diligence include circumstances of acquisition and absence of an export certificate required by the law of the requesting State.
As of March 2011, it has 31 State Parties, 11 other States have signed but not yet ratified the Convention. The full text of the Convention is available here. A UNESCO Information Kit elaborating on The Fight Against The Illicit Trafficking Of Cultural Objects can be downloaded here.