Cultural heritage has been around for centuries. The work of historians, philologists, archaeologists, ethnographers, and naturalists has helped develop museums and libraries around the world. It has also spurred the growth of the professions of museum curators, archivists, and art collectors. The modern era saw the emergence of post-World War II nations driven by the desire to create new nations from old ones.
In the 1970 UNESCO Convention, the organization set forth a list of 11 types of cultural heritage objects. These included archaeological objects, ethnological artifacts, artwork, furniture, antiquities older than 100 years, rare stamps, and archival material. These objects were found within a nation’s territory.
Unfortunately, the existing legal framework for art trade does not address the issue of title disputes related to contested cultural objects. The UNESCO Convention of 1970 does not adequately address title disputes involving cultural objects. While regular ownership concepts are inadequate, a human rights approach to the issue of cultural heritage can serve as a bridge between traditional ownership concepts and human rights law.
To establish if an object is a cultural heritage, it must have a cultural connection that binds it to a nation or community. In addition, the object must be in the public’s interest. The property owner must also be aware that it is not their property and it has value beyond their own.
In addition to cultural property, laws and treaties must also protect the rights of ethnic, linguistic, and religious minorities. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights mandates that the right to self-determination be protected for all people, including ethnic, racial, and religious minorities. This means that it is against the law to destroy the cultural heritage of minority groups.