1970 UNESCO Convention Combats Black Market in Antiquities

Posted on September 5, 2012


Experts say that the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property is proving increasingly effective at combating the illicit antiquities trade. They cite several factors leading to the success.

First, the convention has influenced public opinion, shaped by scholars who oppose looting and trafficking of antiquities because it destroys access to historical scientific knowledge. This public opinion applies pressure to nation states to enforce the terms of the convention and try to combat the illicit trade.

Second, the convention has become a defacto rule of thumb. This has influenced buyers in that they believe it is becoming more and more widely adhered to, so they don’t want to take a chance that they will acquire something that will be difficult to sell or transfer later on, thereby diminishing commercial value of questionable antiquities.

Auction houses have similarly responded by tightening their regulations, even if they tend to be one step behind public sentiment and trends.