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Foreign Minister Steinmeier: Revised legislation on the protection of cultural property will help to combat illegal trade in cultural objects

04.11.2015

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier issued the following statement in Berlin on 4 November on the planned revision of German legislation on the protection of cultural property:

Cultural objects are a fundamental part of social identity. We must enhance their protection, particularly in view of the destruction of cultural property, illicit excavations and illegal trade by terrorist groups such as ISIS. The approved bill will play an important role in this. It complements our international endeavours with Iraq in the United Nations and the practical work we do abroad, primarily via the German Archaeological Institute.

Background:

On 4 November, the German cabinet approved a bill amending legislation on the protection of cultural property. Among other things, the bill combines and reforms existing regulations to prevent illegal trade in foreign cultural objects. In the future, the onus will be on traders to present a licence to export goods from the country of origin, rather than on the injured countries, which so far have had to produce lists of protected objects. The Federal Foreign Office urged this amendment via the legislative process.

To date, existing legislation provides too few means for taking resolute action against illegal trade in cultural objects. In 2007, Germany ratified the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property of 1970. However, many requirements had to be met for the return of cultural property to other countries, and despite regular attempts to do so, not even a single item has been returned so far under existing legislation. Requests for items to be returned usually failed because the countries of origin were unable to prove that the objects were illegally exported after the cut-off date of 26 April 2007. The new bill includes stricter import and export controls, lower requirements for requests from countries of origin for items to be returned, and additional duties of care for traders.

Along with the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly on the protection of Iraqi cultural property co-sponsored by Germany and Iraq, the Bonn Declaration on World Heritage of 29 June 2015, and the resolution approved by the German Bundestag on UNESCO World Cultural Heritage, Germany has taken a clear stand on the protection of cultural property this year on both the national and international level. The German Archaeological Institute, funded by the Federal Foreign Office, is currently working on the Syrian Heritage Archive Project to register cultural heritage.

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