The iIlicit trade in artefacts

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, in partnership with the Museums Association, has published Combating Illicit Trade, the first full set of guidelines for museums designed to help them avoid acquiring or borrowing looted, stolen or illegally exported artefacts.

Despite international efforts to prevent it, the trade in these artefacts continues, and museums must be vigilant about the provenance of their acquisitions.

In 2002 the UK ratified the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

The ensuing Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003 criminalises many aspects of dealing in illicit cultural objects (although similar legislation is still needed in Scotland).

Combating Illicit Trade reflects the general agreement that museums must not acquire, or even display, items that have been recently stolen, looted or illegally exported.

The guidelines require museums to take great efforts to determine the legitimacy of potential acquisitions or loans. They cover objects originating overseas and also archaeological material from different parts of the UK.

The Museums Association has taken a strong interest in illicit trade since the publication in 2000 of its report Stealing History. This is still a useful account of the damage caused by the illicit trade (although is now out-of-date in terms of law and policy).

The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee also published a key report in 2000 that led to the establishment of the Ministerial Advisory Panel on Illicit Trade, which includes the deputy director of the Museums Association.

The looting during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 further increased the political and media interest in illicit trade, and the House of Commons Culture Committee issued a further report on illicit trade later that year.


Combating Illicit Trade

Note for page 6 of Combating Illicit Trade (word)

Ministerial Advisory Panel on Illict Trade

Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003

UK ratification of the Unesco Convention

Culture, Media and Sport Committee special report 2003

Culture, Media and Sport Committee special report 2000

Museums Association Code of Ethics: key elements

Cultural property advice