Chicago Journal of International Law


The Principles for Cooperation in the Mutual Protection and Transfer of Cultural Material ("Principles") provide a substantive framework for helping to avoid and to resolve disputes arising out of requests for the transfer of cultural material, usually involving its return or restitution to countries of origin or indigenous groups. Adopted in 2006 by the International Law Association ("ILA"), the nine Principles were drafted by the ILA's Committee on Cultural Heritage Law after several years of research, preliminary reports, and review sessions. The Preamble to the Principles emphasizes the need for a guiding spirit of partnership among private and public actors through international cooperation. The Principles are intended to be used by a broad range of interested parties: governments, museums, other institutions, persons, and groups of persons. To facilitate the desired spirit of partnership among such a broad range of actors and potential issues, the Principles are simple and specific. Their guidance in handling transfer requests is fundamentally a technique for mutual protection of cultural material. The Principles are therefore tools for good stewardship. The essence of good stewardship, as that concept has evolved in recent years, is responsible care of entrusted affairs or objects. But what do we mean by responsible care? The definition lies in the details. The Principles help define the ethos of stewardship in the context of the actual or potential tensions that result from multiple legal claims to culturally important material. By fostering mutually acceptable agreements for the careful disposition and possession of such material, the Principles are intended to avoid the unnecessary litigation of competing claims. They are not intended to replace litigation of issues but simply to facilitate collaboration between competing claimants in a process of first resort. To understand where the Principles fit into the larger regime to protect cultural heritage, it will be helpful to review some legal background.