Cross-restitution between France and Italy: the importance of bilateral relations in the fight against the illicit trafficking

France and Italy celebrated their cooperation on 15 January 2020 with a cross-restitution ceremony of cultural property.

On this occasion, it was recounted that marble fragments of a statue from medieval times, seized on 22 April 2006 by French customs, were returned to Italy. The statue had been stolen from the house of the film director Roberto Benigni.

These fragments were recovered, thanks to the intervention of the Service de Sécurité Intérieure (S.S.I) in October 2019, by the Carabinieri Corps at Perpignan’s customs headquarters.

An Italian jug dating from the 2nd century B.C., seized on 23 September 2003 by customs in Nice, was also returned.

Italy returned five letters from the Secret Archives of Emperor Napoleon I written by the imperial archivist François Bary addressed to French personalities. These letters dated 1814 and 1815 have handwritten annotations by the emperor.

The ratification of the 1970 Convention provides an added value to requests for returns and restitutions as one of its guiding principles is strengthening of international cooperation among States Parties.

The States Parties, in particular through Article 9 of the 1970 Convention, commit to participate in any concerted international operation. It provides for the possibility of more specific actions within the framework of international cooperation such as the negotiation of bilateral treaties on the basis of Article 9 or the control of the export, import and international trade of cultural property.

For cases of return or restitution that do not fall under the preceding provisions, such as objects stolen from private property, illicit excavations, or not yet listed, bilateral negotiations between States are encouraged, according to Article 9 of the Convention.

The UNESCO “Return and Restitution” Intergovernmental Committee (ICPRCP) can also be solicited to facilitate bilateral negotiations between States concerning requests for the return and restitution of cultural property.

It is understood that the fight against illicit trafficking is above all a matter of international cooperation.

Bilateral relations are one of the keys to the fight against illicit trafficking.

Join UNESCO and the community of States Parties to the 1970 Convention.