Switzerland & the International Trade in Art & Antiquities

Kunitz, Michele | January 1, 2001

Recently, Switzerland has proposed a law that would significantly tighten its regulation of the antiquities trade. The draft law seeks to comport Swiss law with the broad goals of international conventions on the protection and transfer of cultural property. However, given Switzerland’s past reluctance to curtail the illicit trade in antiquities, it remains unclear whether this measure will pass or if passed, whether the law would be adequately enforced. The primary aim of this Comment is to detail the history of international law as it pertains to cultural property and draw attention to the Swiss role in fostering the illicit trade of cultural property. Principally, the Comment will focus on the illegal art trade and the laundering of items through Switzerland. Many argue that various international treaties and regulations are required to combat the problem.’0 This Comment will argue that Switzerland and conduit countries like it ought to reform their property laws and take an active role in the international discussion on cultural heritage. Part II will describe the market and problems associated with the transfer of cultural property from source countries. Part III of the Comment will detail the international treaties that have attempted to deal with the global problem of the art trade and movement of cultural property. Further discussion of the Swiss law and the bonafide purchaser law will be handled in Part IV of the Comment. Part IV will also include specific cases as illustrations of the problem. Finally, Part V will discuss pending measures as well as other potential methods to reform the market in art and cultural property.