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Home/What we do/Programmes/Fighting Illicit Traffic

Illicit trafficking in cultural goods is, as other types of illicit traffics, a complex, vast and multifaceted issue.





The illicit trafficking of cultural property can take different forms, involve multiple parties and serve diverse purposes, depending on the geographical, socio-economic and political context. Illegal trade in art or archaeological objects contravenes national or international legal instruments. The term “illicit traffic in cultural goods” can therefore address a wide range of practices, depending on the national and international legislation in force:

  • Thefts from museums, monuments, religious sites and other public or privately held places of conservation
  •  Illicit excavations of archaeological objects, including underwater excavations
  •  Removal of cultural property during armed conflicts or military occupation
  •  Illicit export and import of cultural property
  •  Illegal transfer of ownership of cultural property (sale, purchase, assumption of mortgage debt, exchange, donation or legacy)
  •  Production, trade and use of forged documentation
  •  Traffic of fake or forged cultural property

Resources: 1970 UNESCO Convention, 1995 UNIDROIT Convention

The fight against illicit trafficking in cultural goods is one of ICOM’s priorities.

Promotion of Professional Ethics and Protection of Collections

Museums must be active players in the fight against illicit traffic and should adopt rules in terms of the acquisition and transfer of collections, according to The ICOM Ethics Code for Museums.
ICOM’s International Committees contribute to this mission by training their personnel to protect heritage, offering tools to facilitate inventories of collections and publishing international guidelines for security.

A successful international partnership

Thanks to its international network of professionals, ICOM is now recognised by many national and international organisations as one of the main players in the fight against illicit traffic in cultural property.
The collaboration between ICOM and its partners includes the sharing of information and experiences, the organisation of awareness-raising campaigns, the development of training programmes for law enforcement authorities, and the dissemination of ICOM publications on illicit traffic to these authorities.

Establishment of an International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods

The Observatory is a long-term international cooperative platform network between law enforcement agencies, research institutions and other external expert stakeholders; an information databank for the network and the public through a Website and a triennial Global Report and an innovative tool that will contribute to preventing and fighting the illegal trade in cultural property and related crimes at both national and international levels.

Reference Tools

The international awareness-raising efforts made by ICOM and its partners to highlight the importance of protecting the cultural heritage of civilizations against illicit traffic has positive consequences.

The international standard, Object Identification (Object ID), makes the identification of endangered objects easier.

The One Hundred Missing Objects collection presents a selection of stolen works of art in a given region of the world.

The ICOM Red Lists classify the endangered categories of objects in some countries or regions of the world.

These tools are transmitted to the police and customs officials worldwide through INTERPOL and the WCO. They are also distributed to museums, auction houses and art dealers.

Object ID

Red Lists

The One Hundred Missing Objects Series

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