U.S. Response:
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Frequently Asked Questions

1. When did the U.S. become 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 
1983. The U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent to ratify in 1972. 
2. What is the primary protection offered by the United States under the 1970 UNESCO Convention?  
The U.S. may impose import restrictions on certain categories of archaeological or ethnological material, the pillage of which has placed the requesting country's national patrimony in jeopardy. This action would be in response to a request for such restrictions from a State Party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Such a restriction enables the United States to enforce its own import laws, since it cannot enforce the export laws of other countries. The import restriction would become effective on the date a descriptive list of the categories of objects is published in the Federal Register. After that date, the restricted objects may enter the U.S. legally only if accompanied by an export certificate issued by the country of origin. 
3. Under what conditions may the U.S. take emergency action?  
Temporary emergency import restrictions may be imposed on request from a State Party if a crisis, as defined in Section 304 of the Act, threatens archaeological and ethnological materials. 
4. May a restricted object enter the U.S. with an export permit?  
Yes, if the export permit is issued by the country of origin. 
5. Is a U.S. import restriction retroactive?  
No. Restrictions take effect from the date of publication of the Federal Register notice
6. Does the restriction apply to material that is already out of the country of origin but not in the U.S. at the time the restriction becomes effective?  
No. However, there must be documentation verifying that it left the country of origin prior to the U.S. import restriction. 
7. If restricted material leaves the country of origin after the restriction becomes effective, may it enter the U.S. from another country?  
It may be imported into the U.S. from another country only if it has an export certificate issued by the country of origin. In other words, an object may not enter the U.S. with an export permit issued by country X, if the country of origin is country Y. 
8. Does an import restriction apply to objects on loan for exhibition purposes?  
No. Objects on loan for temporary exhibition purposes are exempt from an import restriction when immunity from seizure has been granted by USIA under Public Law 89-259,  "Exemption from Judicial Seizure of Cultural Objects Imported for Temporary Exhibition."
9. Is there an import restriction on archaeological and ethnological objects from all countries that are Party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention?  
No. Import restrictions are granted on a country by country basis. A State Party must seek the imposition of a U.S. import restriction by filing a request with the U.S. government. The request must provide information, to the extent known by the State Party, that addresses certain criteria set forth in the U.S. Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act. It is reviewed and a decision is made about whether to impose import restrictions. U.S. Implementation provides a list of countries where import restrictions are in force. 
10. May articles of stolen cultural property enter the U.S.?  
No. It is unlawful to trade in stolen material. As a general rule, in the U.S., title to an object cannot be conveyed if that object has been stolen. 
11. What is the difference between stolen and illicitly exported cultural property?  
Generally, for an object to be considered stolen it must have an owner. An illicit export occurs when an object is taken out of the country of origin without a permit, if a permit is required. Most art source countries have national laws that 1) vest ownership in the state of all cultural assets, known and unknown, above the ground and below the ground, thereby making the nation the owner; and 2) restrict the export of cultural objects except for temporary exhibition, research or conservation purposes. 

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Revised: November 10, 1998


Cultural Property Advisory Committee 


Review Process 

Glossary and Definitions 



On October 1, 1999, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs will become part of the
U.S. Department of State. Bureau webpages are being updated accordingly. Thank you for your patience.