The subject of illicit traffic in cultural objects arouses high emotions – nor were these lacking in negotiations for the new UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects. Strong feelings sometimes distort the view of those affected by them: during the eight years of active negotiation various views were expressed about the relationship between UNESCO and UNIDROIT on this topic which were quite mistaken. For example, it was said by some that the initiative for a UNIDROIT Convention on the topic was a manoeuvre by “art importing” countries to weaken the UNESCO Convention. Others thought that the negotiations were a kind of extension of the UNESCO Convention at the behest of the “exporting” States. Some thought that the UNESCO Convention of 1970 and the developing UNIDROIT text were incompatible, and many were curious as to the views of UNESCO on it.
The reality was quite different to any of these assumptions. It was at UNESCO’s request that UNIDROIT took up the matter of illicit traffic in cultural movables. Illicit traffic is an enormously complex problem. UNESCO knew this very well since it had been active against the practice since its early days.