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International Policing- UNESCO and Interpol


UNESCO has, on occasions, engaged Interpol on issues of underwater cultural heritage sites’ protection. This is in furtherance of its support of the implementation of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. In their meetings, they prepared a joint international action plan to protect cultural assets inherited from the threats of looters.

International Efforts

Interpol, the world's largest police organization with 190 member countries has led the law enforcement efforts to protect cultural heritage since 1947. Nearly 70 years today, with decades of experience, the force is concentrated on supporting the international community in two interconnected areas. First, the exchange of sensitive information to prevent identity and reduce threats to cultural heritage through Interpol's global Stolen Works of Art database. Second, connecting specialized units for the protection of cultural heritage. The illicit trafficking in cultural property is a serious transnational criminal issue that affects the countries of origin, transit, and final destination. It is sustained by the demand from the art market and porous borders. Interpol's commitment is to join the international alliance as a partner in countering the legal trade of cultural heritage. They aim to provide this service by providing 119 member countries with the means to access furnish information in real-time and a secure manner.

In this area, Interpol continues to find new ways to fight illicit traffic and improving its capabilities to provide value to its member countries to design false-proof modus operandis. Interpol's database for stolen worlds of art is a key tool for the dissemination of information. The database provides information on worldwide stolen art. It is this unique international database fed with information as a tool that enables the first information on a stolen cultural property quickly and to keep it as long as possible there is no prescription for all projects linked to works of art. That is because works of art have a particular status according to which all stolen objects must remain in the Interpol database as long as they are not recovered. This tool is available not only to police forces but also from 2009 to public and private entities, Universities, auction houses, journalists, museums, art dealers, private collectors, and also students.

Interpol Database

Today, the Interpol Stolen Works of Art database contains more than 49,000 stolen objects coming from 132 countries. Only last year more than 46,000 searches were made against their database and out of these more than 50,000-600 were made by the private sectors who requested access to our database. Thanks to the daily exchange of information inside and outside the network thanks to the Memorandum of Understanding signed with UNESCO, Interpol can insert, modify and delete the requests for international searches.

This possibility allows Interpol to support all member countries which are facing natural disasters or wars. For this reason, they are enabled to send information about stolen works of art in real-time. Their database is eclipsed with objects stolen from their geological underwater sites. Since Interpol is now receiving from the national central bureau or international partners. Their requests for publishing international notices, the rules for the underwater archaeological sites are deeply different from the sides on the field. Particularly in the underwater environment where it is not possible to recover from the depths of all cultural items. By discovering the objects in their geological sites, one can see the quality and quantity of the items found. However, it must be noted that the difficulties to operate in some areas in high depths have forced the specialized unit to be involved in their protection to limit their activity.

Only once in the inventory what is visible, one can take different photographs of the entire site and the singular objects. Thanks to this activity, focusing on venturing and the possible analysis of precarious locations has become easier- even if slightly so. One can now further the possibility to request through the national central bureaus to issue an international notice.

Achievements by Interpol

Interpol can also be asked to publish a special post for the most wanted objects. In 2011, the Lava treasures which is a French national treasure, consisting of the Third-Century gold coins found on the seabed of Corsica, are now state property. These coins cannot be sold but unfortunately in the past years, the site has been looted several times. After the publication of the past and thanks to the discussion generated around it, there was an international understanding to curb looting. The coins were seized in Italy by the Italian Carabinieri for the protection of cultural heritage and by the French, a CBC for the coins put on sale United States.

As for Interpol, they are ready to support member countries in fighting this international illicit traffic in underwater archaeological items. It must be noted here that, it is not different from the other attacks launched worldwide against the different expressions of the cultural heritage by the international criminal organization and terrorist groups. At the same time, as one has witnessed, the international police experience shows that the illicit trafficking of all property can be stopped. However, when multiple countries are involved in the same investigation, they are supported by similar legislation with close legal principles.

The bronze nowadays posts in Italian Museum was the first step for moving towards the ratification of the different UNESCO conventions and in particular of the 2001 Convention of the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. Ratifying the international conventions will be simple for the states to adopt. For example, the regulation of Free-Ports and a better organization of the art market with more comprehensive rules regarding the search for provenance due to diligence requirements and responsibilities of the buyer.


In this framework, one of the recommendations at the end of the 12th Interpol expert group on stolen cultural property held in Lyon in 2015 was to encourage Interpol member states to ratify the Convention on the protection of the underwater cultural heritage. This is important for states and Interpol since the latter’s mandate is to connect specialized units for the protection of cultural heritage, speed up the investigation as well as share best practices. The raison d’etre for Interpol is to improve the police collaboration in the protection of cultural heritage. In this field and how to share their different knowledge.


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