The International Protection of Cultural Heritage

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The International Protection of Cultural Heritage



The International Protection of Cultural Heritage
Izmir (Smirne), Turchia, 14 maggio 2014

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The International Protection of Cultural Heritage


The need to protect works of artistic and historical interest by mean of a special regulation emerged first in the national legal orders and then gradually involved the International Community. It was only after World War 2, and the rise in number of destructions, thefts, spoliations and illicit exportations of artworks that some international institutions and organizations took the issue into consideration and promoted the adoption of some international instruments (treaties and declarations) dedicated to the protection of both moveable and immoveable cultural heritage.

As a matter of principle, according to International Law, each State has the right of sovereignty over cultural property located in its territory. States more committed to the protection of their historical-artistic heritage ratify international convention and in so doing undertake obligations to cooperate and assist reciprocally in the safeguarding and enhancing of their own cultural property and national heritage.

The obligations of protection are different in respect to immovable property (such as museums, historical palaces, monumental and archaeological centres) and movable property (such as archaeological findings, property of an artistic-historical interest and other artworks), which – by their nature – can be displaced and transferred illicitly from one State territory to another.

As for immovable property, International Law’s main concern is to achieve cooperation among States with the aim to safeguard immovable property of universal value in the place where it stands (the so called “in situ protection”) so to protect the most significant sites, which are inserted in the List of World Cultural and Natural Heritage to be preserved and transmitted to future generations. Turkey, as well as Italy, has sites inscribed in the UNESCO’s Wold Heritage List.

As for moveable property, the main concern is to prevent thefts, spoliations and illicit exportation of cultural property which cause the impoverishment of the State of origin’s national heritage. International treaties in this field regulate international trade and try to establish the right to restitution of stolen or illicitly exported objects.

Turkey is a party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Turkey also ratified the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which have enlarged the notion of protected “cultural property” far beyond the traditional concept, for it encompasses living and mainly intangible cultural expressions of a nation which were not taken into account by the previous conventions.

The issue of cultural heritage conservation is also addressed by EU Law. In the 90s’ the European Community began to show interest in the protection of historical and artistic treasures of its Member States from the standpoint of controlling illicit traffic and export in cultural goods. Eventually, an all-encompassing general provision dealing with “Culture” was added in the EU Treaty, thus giving a specific legal basis and competence to the EU institutions  in the field of, among others, “conservation and safeguarding of cultural heritage of European significance”. In so doing, the concept of European cultural heritage was introduced in the text of the EU Treaty. Article 167 of TFEU, among other things, states that both the EU and its Member States shall “foster cooperation with third countries and the competent international organisations in the sphere of culture”.

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