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Attività e Programmi Internazionali

Contribution from Germany (Robert Peters)

Robert Peters (Adviser at the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media Division K 42 – Protection, Conservation and Return of Cultural Goods )

Germany welcomes the initiative taken by Italy to provide a forum for an informal debate about the measures to be taken against the illicit traffic of cultural property. In this regard, Italy takes a special position as it could be considered both a source country rich in cultural heritage and a market country which is part of the G8 and has the technical and financial resources to protect its own patrimony as well as assisting other states in developing effective measures against trafficking in cultural property.
In recent years, Italy has demonstrated that it can effectively take advantage of this particular position in a strategy that combines criminal investigations and diplomatic negotiations in order to recover illegally exported cultural property. The latest examples for this successful strategy are the bilateral agreements set up by the Italian government with several U.S. museums, such as the Getty and the Met. The returns of several outstanding pieces of art have been accompanied by new loan agreements underlining the need for cooperation in cultural matters. At the same time, Italy has also taken responsibility for returning cultural objects as in the case of the obelisk of Axum, which was returned to Ethiopia in 2005.
Despite historical differences, Germany is in a similar position of returning cultural property on the one hand and asking for its return on the other. In its historical and moral responsibility deriving from WWII and the Holocaust, Germany has made many efforts to identify and to return cultural property looted by the Nazi as, for example, set out in the 1998 Washington Principles, which were reiterated in the Terezin Declaration in 2009. Germany, however, also claims cultural property, which has been removed by specialized trophy art brigades of the Soviet Army in violation of international law during and after WWII. Many of these objects are still in Russia or the other successor states of the Soviet Union.
With regard to fighting the illicit traffic in cultural property, in 2007 Germany ratified and implemented in its national legislation the 1970 UNESCO Convention enabling all other State Parties to this Convention to claim cultural property illegally exported from their territories. As a result, Germany is launching a national online database including all relevant federal state and regional state legislation, responsible authorities, and the list of cultural property of national importance. The database will go into operation by this summer. Furthermore, Germany has recently ratified the Second Protocol to the Hague Convention and is actively involved in the process of redrafting Directive 93/7/EEC on facilitating the return of cultural property within the European Community.
In sum, despite legal measures to be taken in order to fight the illicit traffic of cultural property, cooperation on both the national and international levels is extremely important within the bilateral frame, as is cooperation on the international level through ICOM, UNESCO, UNODC and others. By now it should be internationally accepted that looting and illicit trafficking in cultural property harm not only the national patrimony but also the entire cultural heritage of humanity. Many tasks still have to be dealt with, such as monitoring archaeological sites, improving security at museums and establishing lists of their inventories, but recent developments have shown that we are heading in the right direction.