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Netherlands: Accession to 1970 UNESCO Treaty

(June 22, 2009) On June 10, 2009, the Upper House (Eerste Kamer) of the Dutch Parliament (Staten-Generaal) approved legislation on the accession of the Netherlands to a major international treaty to protect cultural objects, the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970. The Dutch legislation will enter into force on July 1, 2009. Several provisions comprise amendments to the country's Code of Civil Procedure and the Civil Code.

The new regulations stipulate that the owners of cultural objects sold in the Netherlands that were stolen in other countries or illegally exported will be able to demand the return of those objects from the buyer more quickly. Invoking good-faith purchase of the objects will not prevent their return. However, “in such cases the court will award a reasonable compensation if the buyer exercised due care during the acquisition.” (Press Release, Ministry of Justice of the Netherlands, Increased Protection for Cultural Objects (June 10, 2008), available at
; see also Uitvoeringswet UNESCO-verdrag 1970 inzake onrechtmatige invoer, uitvoer of eigendomsoverdracht van cultuurgoederen [webpage with legislative background of the bill, including the June 3, 2008, text] [in Dutch], Eerste Kamer der Staten Generaal website, (last visited June 18, 2009).)

The Convention was adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on November 14, 1970, and entered in force on April 24, 1972. The United States deposited its instrument of acceptance on September 2, 1983, the 50th country to join. Belgium, the 117th party and apparently the most recent before the Netherlands, deposited its instrument of ratification on March 31, 2009. (Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970
(last visited June 18, 2009).)

The Ministry of Justice stated that Dutch accession to the treaty will make it possible to better combat illegal trade in cultural objects. Some experts in the art world may disagree, however. President and Director of the Chicago Art Institute, James Cuno, for example, who has written a new book on the implications of the Convention entitled WHO OWNS ANTIQUITY? MUSEUMS AND THE BATTLE OVER OUR ANCIENT HERITAGE (Princeton University Press, 2009), contends “export constraints are creating black markets. And like water on a leaky roof, looted artifacts are finding the path of least resistance to a buyer somewhere.” (James Cuno [interviewed by Janet Raloff], Treaty on Antiquities Hinders Access for Museums, 175:7 SCIENCE NEWS 32 (Mar. 28, 2009), available at