The Washington Principles are an agreement signed by 44 nations on 3 December 1998. They resulted from the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets, attended not only by those nations but also by twelve non-governmental organisations, notably consisting in Jewish victims’ associations and the Vatican. The eleven principles relate to the identification and documentation of works of art and other cultural assets that were unlawfully confiscated under National Socialism, and to jointly finding “just and fair solutions” with the Nazis’ victims or their heirs.
As the statute of limitation has already expired on claims under civil law, the Washington Principles are an instrument of “soft law”, i.e. a moral pledge. That pledge was affirmed on 9 December 1999 in a joint declaration by the German government, the federal states and the local government central associations. Since then, all public institutions which fall under its remit have been called upon to examine the circumstances in which their holdings were acquired. Cultural assets that were relocated as a result of National Socialist tyranny and the events of the Second World War or (especially those in Jewish ownership) confiscated due to persecution are to be publicly registered in the Lost Art database and restituted where possible.