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
Frequently Asked Questions
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
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
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
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
Property Advisory Committee