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International Protection of Historical Heritage

Protección internacional del Patrimonio Histórico
International protection of Historical Heritage

In previous articles we studied the legislative measures that exist in Spain for the protection of its Historical Heritage (PHE). In the present, we are going to make a brief analysis of two international institutions that are key when it comes to establishing the protection that exists at the transnational level and that reinforce the legislative measures that are adopted at the national level by the different countries (UNESCO); and the persecution of the plunder of the PHE works when they are no longer in Spanish territory and that is key to their recovery (INTERPOL).

UNESCO

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations founded in 1945 with the aim of contributing to security and peace in the world through education, science and culture. Its headquarters are in Paris and it currently has 195 member countries, which gives it a universal vocation. Since its inception, UNESCO has been very sensitive to the protection of cultural heritage through the use of two regulatory mechanisms:

  • Conventions, with normative value for all countries that ratify them
  • Recommendations, without normative value but that propose a mode of action in the protection of culture and cultural assets.

Of the UNESCO Conventions, we are going to highlight three that have been of key importance in the development of the national regulations of the member countries regarding protection against plunder cultural heritage of its historical heritage:

  1. the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, of 1954;
  2. the Paris Convention on the Fight against Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods, of 1970; and
  3. the Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Property, drawn up at the request of UNESCO by the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT), of 1995. All these treaties were ratified in their day by Spain and incorporated into its regulatory body.

[fusion_highlight color=”rgba(0,144,142,0.3)” rounded=”no” class=”” id=””]You may be interested in: “Assets of cultural interest. Objective limitations on property rights

The Hague Convention (1954) had the significance of being the first international treaty of worldwide scope whose exclusive purpose was the protection of cultural heritage in case of armed conflict. Obviously, the tragic experience suffered in the two world wars and, above all, the global looting of the Nazi regime of the looted works in its occupied countries, was determining and inspiring its content. The scope of application is very extensive and varied, since it covers artistic or historical immovable and movable property, archaeological sites, works of art, manuscripts, codices, books and scientific collections, regardless of their initial ownership.

The content of the Hague Convention is in full force in places rich in cultural heritage where armed conflicts are currently taking place, such as Syria or Yemen. It is, in short, a legislative body that offers protective measures that prevent the destruction of the historical heritage of countries at war, as well as its illicit traffic.

The Paris Convention (1970) has the importance that it was approved and adopted for situations of peace where there was no armed conflict. In it, obligations and commitments were imposed on the contracting parties in the sale of a work of art (buyer and seller), preventive measures were established to avoid situations of plunder and, finally, a common action protocol was established for the 123 countries that have ratified it. The set of measures established in this binding regulatory text covered the field of international public law.

To cover the field of international private law, UNESCO asked UNIDROIT to draft the Convention on Stolen or illegally exported (1995). The most relevant points of this normative text (ratified by Spain in 2002) are 3:

  • Obligation of the owner of a stolen art object to return it.
  • The complaint of stolen cultural property and the request for restitution may be made by a State, legal entity or private individual.
  • The stolen cultural asset does not have to enjoy special protection (be an Asset of Cultural Interest or form part of the General Inventory, in the case of Spain).

Finally, indicate that UNESCO does essential work when it comes to disseminating and protecting the most important cultural and natural enclaves in the world through the declaration of World Heritage Site. With this denomination, apart from the obvious promotion that it entails, it means access to the World Heritage Conversation Fund, managed by UNESCO, which will undoubtedly favor its conservation. Currently, there are 1,121 declared World Heritage Sites, of which 869 are of a cultural nature, distributed in 167 countries. Spain occupies the privileged 3rd place as the country in the world with the most number of World Heritage Sites with 48, behind Italy and China with 55 each.

It should be noted that Andalusia and Castilla y León are two of the regions with the most cultural heritage to be protected according to UNESCO, with 8 sites each, as are the Italian regions of Tuscany and Lombardy. Of the 48 sites declared in Spain as World Heritage Sites, we can cite the oldest (1984) such as El Escorial Monastery, the Alhambra in Granada, Burgos Cathedral or the Historic Center of Córdoba, or the most modern such as the Caliphate City of Medina Azahara (2018). The protection of these enclaves for future generations is therefore maximum both nationally and internationally.

INTERPOL

The International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL< /a>) is the largest police organization in the world with 194 member states, older than the United Nations (it was created in 1923) and headquartered in Lyon (France). Its main objective is to prevent and combat international crime and its work focuses on various areas (drug trafficking, arms trafficking, child pornography, terrorism, etc.) among which is the recovery of illegally looted works of art. INTERPOL contributes significantly to the fight against the looting of works of art with the international dissemination of news of the theft of these goods, centralizing the information on these pieces provided by each country.

In this way, all stolen works are provided with a single technical sheet that allows them to compile lists of both stolen and recovered cultural assets. If INTERPOL locates a stolen work, it notifies the authorities of the country where said work is located for its recovery and investigation of the facts for the dismantling of gangs organized in the illicit traffic of stolen works of art.

Conclusions

In the last 75 years, the world has become aware of the importance of conserving the cultural assets of each country and fighting against their looting, a task in which the collaboration of all is essential and to provide itself with the necessary legal means, nationally and internationally, to be successful. In short, the looting of a work of art, whatever it may be, supposes a loss and damage to the cultural heritage of Humanity.

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