Protecting cultural heritage

Individuals and countries can all do more to protect cultural heritage.

What you can do

  • Take care when purchasing items and use all available means to determine their origin and provenance: this is particularly true for cultural objects that appear to originate from conflict zones;
  • Use INTERPOL’s Stolen Works of Art Database to check every object you deal with. The database is open to the public and access can be requested.
  • Compile inventories of collections, with photographs and exact descriptions of each object.
  • Refuse to buy objects without adequate documentation about their origin;
  • Make objects easily identifiable [i.e. marking by the owner or by specialist private companies];
  • Protect the premises where collections are held;
  • Report thefts immediately to the police or other law enforcement authorities and provide them with a full list of stolen items together with photographs.
Cultural heritage

At the national level

  • Create, where they do not exist yet, specialized police units solely dedicated to the protection of cultural heritage to investigate cases of trafficking of cultural property.
  • Create a national database connected to INTERPOL’s Stolen Works of Art Database.
  • Develop and enhance national legislation to protect cultural heritage and regulate the art market (UNESCO Database of National Cultural Heritage Laws);
  • Use and contribute to the INTERPOL’s Stolen Works of Art database by sharing information regarding stolen works of art;
  • Become party to international conventions such as the 1970 UNESCO Convention and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention;
  • Assess the potential use of the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) to fight illicit trafficking of cultural property;
  • Prepare inventories of public collections using standards which will make it possible to circulate information in the event of theft;
  • Develop a computerized database along the lines of those currently in use, to avoid duplication of effort;
  • Circulate information on thefts as rapidly as possible;
  • Raise public awareness with regard to the cultural heritage both in the country and abroad;
  • Develop training courses for law enforcement services, customs and judicial authorities, with the support of cultural institutions.

Joint call to fight illicit trafficking of Afghan cultural property

The recommendations listed above remain relevant in the face of the continued traffic in cultural objects from conflict zones, especially Afghanistan.

In response to the seriousness of the situation, we joined with a number of partners in October 2022 to remind professionals and the public not to buy or deal in objects that could have been removed illicitly from Afghanistan.

“Measures to protect Afghan movable cultural heritage should be reinforced, notably in the framework of the UNESCO 1970 Convention against illicit trafficking of cultural property and its associated mechanisms. UNESCO, UNIDROIT, UNODC, INTERPOL, WCO and CINOA call upon professionals and the public involved in the trade of cultural property to refrain from acquiring or taking part in the import, export or transfer of ownership of cultural property when they have reasonable cause to believe that the objects have been stolen, illegally alienated, clandestinely excavated or illegally exported from Afghanistan.”