Italy Ratifies the Nicosia Convention on Crimes against Cultural Property.

January 13, 2022


On 12th January 2022, Italy, with the almost unanimous consent of the Chamber of Deputies, has ratified the Nicosia Convention, the international treaty to prevent and combat crimes against cultural property.

The Convention, signed in Nicosia on 19th May 2017 by 13 countries (Armenia, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Mexico, Montenegro, Portugal, Russia, San Marino, Slovenia, Ukraine), ratified by Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Mexico and Italy, pursues the objective of promoting international cooperation to combat crimes that attack the world’s cultural heritage and is open to all States.

H.E. Dario Franceschini, the Italian Minister of Culture, has expressed his satisfaction with the result, saying that ratification reaffirms the central role of culture for the country and that the protection and safeguarding of cultural heritage is a constitutive part of Italian’s identity, hoping that the draft law on increasing penalties for offences against cultural heritage, which is currently being examined by parliament, will soon reach a proper conclusion.

Let us recall that Italy holds almost 70% of the world’s cultural heritage and had already played a leading role in 2017, making a competent and proactive contribution in order to strengthen actions to prevent and combat such crimes.

The Nicosia Convention replaces the previous Delphi Convention (European Convention on Offences relating to Cultural Property) of June 1985, which never entered into force due to a lack of ratifications. The two treaties were based on different principles, with the Delphi Convention focusing on common responsibility, solidarity and prevention in the protection of Europe’s cultural heritage against criminal activities, public awareness, and the recovery of stolen goods with the application of sanctions; whereas, the Nicosia  Convention  is  originated  within  the

Council of Europe with the collaboration of several global organisations such as the European Union, the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT), UNESCO and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Prevention (UNOD), and is aimed at preventing and combating illicit trafficking and destruction of cultural property, also in the broader context of countering terrorism and organised crime.

The Convention establishes a number of offences, including theft (art. 3), illegal excavations and removals (art. 4), illegal import and export (art. 5 and 6), acquisition of stolen movable property (art. 7) and marketing of stolen property (art. 8), forgery and alteration of documents (art. 9) and malicious destruction of or damage to cultural property, monuments, archaeological sites (art. 10). An aggravating circumstance of the offence, in addition to complicity (art.11), is: a) if the offence is committed by persons abusing the trust placed in them as professionals; b) if it is committed by public officials in charge of the preservation or protection of cultural goods; c) if it is committed within the framework of a criminal organisation; d) if the perpetrator has a previous record for the same offences.

Other legal means agreed upon by the adhering States include: property databases, import-export control procedures, execution of letters rogatory, active and passive extraditions, arrest and search warrants, mutual legal assistance treaties, the establishment of a central national authority for the coordination of activities related to the protection of cultural property, due diligence for those involved in the trade in cultural property, the conclusion of agreements with internet service providers and web vendors to cooperate in preventing the trafficking of cultural property, and the promotion of awareness campaigns.

States Parties will have to ensure the implementation of effective and dissuasive legislation, with adequate penalties in terms of imprisonment and fines, that recognise the specific criminal gravity of crimes committed against cultural property.

The Nicosia Convention demonstrates the importance of cooperation to protect the identity values and historical and cultural roots of each country.

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