Remarks at the Adoption of a UN General Assembly Resolution on “Return or Restitution of Cultural Property”

Hector Brown
Adviser for Economic and Social Affairs
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
December 13, 2018


Thank you Mr. President,

The United States welcomes resolutions at the United Nations General Assembly and other international forums that draw attention to the important issue of trafficking in cultural property. The United States believes strongly that the protection of cultural heritage in countries of origin promotes regional stability and good governance. To this end, we have supported and continue to support numerous resolutions on this issue in various international forums, including at the United Nations Security Council, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Further, we have joined with other members of the UN Group of Friends on Cultural Protection in implementing national legislation to prevent the illicit trafficking of cultural property.

In 2016, the United States Congress passed its most recent legislation concerning this issue, “The Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act,” which seeks to coordinate policy and programs on this issue across the U.S. government, as well as with our international partners. We have already seen the positive results of these efforts, and we look forward to continuing to work with our international partners on multilateral and bilateral bases.

However, while the United States joins consensus on the “Return or Restitution of Cultural Property” resolution, we take this opportunity to clarify important points related to preambular paragraph five and operative paragraph 11 concerning the United Nations Convention on Jurisdictional Immunities of States and Their Property. This resolution concerns the illicit trafficking of cultural property, which we believe is a separate issue from whether such property is immune in a judicial proceeding. In future resolutions concerning this issue, we encourage a re-examination of the relevance of this Convention to the issue of cultural property trafficking.

The United States also takes this opportunity to highlight the important issue of trafficking in indigenous peoples’ cultural property. The United States – consistent with the spirit of this resolution and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – has enacted national domestic legislation that seeks to enable the repatriation of such property. Even so, Native American tribes frequently have difficulty recovering their cultural property internationally.

In conclusion, the United States reiterates its view that the trafficking of cultural property is unacceptable, and we look forward to continuing to raise the issue of indigenous peoples’ cultural property at international forums in the future.

Thank you.