The necessity of protecting works of artistic and historical interest, as well as museums, by special legislation has its origins in the laws of individual states and has become an interest of the international community.
It was only after World War II, with the rise in number of destructions, thefts, spoliations and illicit exportations of artworks, that some international institutions took the issue into consideration, promoting the creation of some international conventions on the protection of moveable and immovable cultural property.
As a matter of principle, according to International Law, every State has the right of sovereignty over the cultural goods and museum artefacts located in its territory. States who are more committed to the protection of their historical-artistic heritage conclude treaties by which they undertake the obligation to cooperate and assist in safeguarding their respective cultural heritage.
The obligations to protect guaranteed in the international conventions are different for immovable property, such as museums, historical palaces and monumental and archaeological centres, and for movable property, such as archaeological findings, property of an artistic-historical interest and other artworks which – by their nature – can be displaced and transferred illicitly from one State territory to another.
As for immovable property, the primary concern of International Law is to achieve cooperation among States in order to preserve and enjoy immovable property in the place where it is situated (the so called “in situ protection”).
As for moveable property, on the other hand, the main concern is to prevent thefts, spoliations and illegal exportation which cause the impoverishment of the State of origin’s cultural heritage, through the regulation of the international trade in such property.