The Antiquities Dealers’ Association have welcomed the news that Switzerland looks set to ratify the 1970 UNESCO Convention which calls for signatory countries to collaborate on the repatriation of stolen and illicit works of art.
After many years of discussion a federal bill on the international transfer of cultural property has been approved by the Swiss government allowing for the 1970 agreement to become law at the beginning of 2004. UNESCO demands greater transparency in the movement of cultural property and for Switzerland this will mean a marked increase in the time limit within which a stolen work of art can be reclaimed by its true owner. Currently set at just five years (a loophole that has seen Switzerland gain a reputation as one of the hubs for illicitly excavated works of art) the ratification of the Unesco Convention will see the time limit rise to 30 years. Providing a ‘carrot’ to those who have unknowingly bought problem works of art in good faith is the promise of compensation by the government if works are reclaimed by their rightful owner.
Joanna van der Lande, vice chairman of the ADA, speculated that the long-awaited decision had come as the Swiss government became rather alarmed at the criticism – right or wrong – leveled against Switzerland during the debate on looted antiquities and by the UK’s signing of the UNESCO agreement in August 2002.