The International Protection of Cultural Property: Some Skeptical Observations

21 Pages Posted: 23 Nov 2006

See all articles by Eric A. Posner

Eric A. Posner

University of Chicago - Law School

Date Written: November 2006


Cultural property is subject to two international legal regimes, one of which protects cultural property during wartime, and the other of which regulates the international trade in cultural property. Neither legal regime has been notably successful. Cultural property is often targeted and destroyed during wars, or given inadequate protection. And the international trade in cultural property flourishes because states have been unwilling to invest resources in controlling it. As a result, scholars and advocates argue that both legal regimes should be strengthened. Sanctions should be enhanced; states should be forced to devote greater resources to complying with treaties; treaty obligations should be made stricter and more detailed; and states that have not ratified the existing treaties should be pressured to do so. These proposals are, however, unwise. Cultural property is, in most ways, just like ordinary property, and existing laws and practices that govern the treatment of ordinary property should apply to cultural property as well. The distinctive features of cultural property do not justify the existing treaty regimes or proposals to strengthen them.

Suggested Citation

Posner, Eric A., The International Protection of Cultural Property: Some Skeptical Observations (November 2006). University of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 141. Available at SSRN: or

Eric A. Posner (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
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