The Federal Act on the International Transfer of Cultural Property (Cultural Property Transfer Act, ‘CPTA’), which came into force on June 1st, 2005 and implemented the 1970 UNESCO Convention into Swiss law, aims at enhancing the protection of Swiss cultural heritage.
Art. 3(1) CPTA calls for the establishment of a Federal Registry listing “cultural property of the Swiss Confederation of significant importance for the cultural heritage” and assigns the task of running it to the Swiss Federal Office for Culture. According to Art. 3(2) CPTA, registered cultural property enjoys enhanced legal protection: (a) acquisition by adverse possession and protection of the good faith purchaser are excluded, (b) repatriation claims for registered cultural property are not subject to the statute of limitations, and (c) permanent export is prohibited. Temporary export requires special permission from the Swiss Federal Office for Culture and is granted for research, conservation, exhibitions or similar reasons only (see Art. 5(2) CPTA).
On July 1st, 2014 the Ordinance on the Federal Registry of Cultural Property (‘Ordinance’) came into force, enabling the implementation of the Federal Registry. The Ordinance sets out the registration criteria and procedure. According to Art. 2(2) of the Ordinance, cultural property is of significant importance for the cultural heritage of Switzerland if it fulfills at least one of the following criteria: (a) artistic, art historic or art scientific importance, (b) uniqueness or rareness, (c) importance of craftsmanship, (d) iconographic importance, (e) historic importance, (f) relevance in the context of a collection, or (g) material value. Registration requests can be filed by the state institution in possession of the cultural property (Art. 6 Ordinance); they are then evaluated by the Swiss Federal Office for Culture (Art. 5(2) Ordinance).
The Federal Registry of Cultural Property is an electronic database. It can be accessed free of charge by the public on the website of the Swiss Federal Office for Culture (Art. 5(1), 9 Ordinance).