Cultural heritage is a tangible and intangible heritage asset that can be inherited or created by a society. It can take many forms, including living customs, artifacts, monuments, and even a community’s cultural beliefs. These are important because they are part of the past and can help people reconcile with the past. For example, in a war, cultural objects can be a critical component of healing.
Historically, a number of different legal frameworks have been crafted to protect the objects. In the United States, the National Museum at the foot of the Capitol was a prime example of this. The same goes for museums in Japan, South Africa, and other countries around the world.
There are two major conventions that define and protect these types of assets. One is the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, which is designed to promote diversity and creativity by encouraging the protection of cultural goods. Another is the Faro Convention, which was adopted 27 October 2005.
The 70 UNESCO Convention established a regime for recognizing world heritage sites and controlling the movement of cultural objects. However, the convention itself is not a panacea. Article 13(d) allows states to designate national cultural heritage as well. But, in order to achieve this, they must cooperate with other member states. Similarly, the convention does not prevent states from importing and exporting cultural property.
Other forms of legal framework exist, such as the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, which offer fair solutions to the dilemma of how to preserve Nazi-era artworks. Yet, these measures do not address the larger issues of how to reclaim cultural objects or how to properly identify, catalogue, and restore them.
A more comprehensive approach should be applied. This could include restitution to the victims, restoration, and temporary exchanges of cultural objects. Additionally, states should not only preserve, but also provide access to cultural objects. This can be accomplished through measures such as loans, temporary exhibitions, and the creation of local museums.
Despite the fact that a wide range of legal instruments are available, it’s important to recognize that some of these options are too expensive to implement, or simply not feasible in many cases. A few of the most promising efforts to protect and conserve cultural objects involve collaboration, such as joint research, education, and preservation. Whether or not these methods work depends on a variety of factors, from state-to-state, country-to-country, and cultural object-to-object.
To put it simply, the heritage title is an interesting concept, but it’s not necessarily applicable to all cultural objects. Nevertheless, it is a good idea to know what it is. Some of its earliest forms can be traced to the time of the Egyptian pyramids, the Roman Empire, and the Inca Empire. Others have been smuggled from one country to the next for personal or commercial gain.
Clearly, a better understanding of the law governing the conservation and trade of cultural objects can only help. Moreover, it can be used as a bridge in a human rights law approach to cultural property.