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Athenian Association to sue UK over Parthenon Sculptures

A lawsuit is being brought in the European Court of Human Rights over the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures. The case is being brought by The Athenian Association, an Athens based organisation chaired by Eleftherios C. Skiadas, the vice mayor of Athens.

This case is interesting, as it is happening outside of the remit of the Greek Government, although it is unclear what knowledge the government has of the process. The Athenian Association were prompted to take action following the rejection of UNESCO mediation [1] prior to the prorogation of Parliament in 2015.

It will be interesting to find out more details of this case in due course, in particular what arguments they are basing their case on.

Syllogos ton Athinaion logo

Syllogos ton Athinaion logo

The Athenian Association [2]


The historical “Athenians’ Association” (Syllogos ton Athinaion), which celebrated 120 years of existence this year (1895-2015), instituted proceedings at the European Court of Human Rights against the United Kingdom regarding the Acropolis Sculptures. The natives of the Greek capital set out the array of violations to their human rights regarding the cultural treasures of their city, characterised by Paul the Apostle as the «devotions of the Athenians». Indeed, this is the sole case worldwide of a UNESCO World Heritage Monument (1987) being despoiled through the removal of structural elements, such as the metopes and sculptures of the Parthenon.

Among the statutory objectives of the “Athenians’ Association”, special mention is made to “the making provision for the preservation and conservation of the monuments, works of art, etc., linked to the history of Athens”. Its founding members comprised descendants of the Athenians who stood up against the despoilment of the Parthenon by Lord Elgin. Besides, one of the very first actions undertaken by the Association was an event organised in 1896 to commemorate the liberation of the Acropolis from the Ottoman Turks and during which its deputy chairman, professor Theodossios Benizelos (1821-1900) mentioned that the Parthenon was a place of daily worship, the holy of holies, a life good for our ancestors and that the Athenians strongly protested against the despoilment of the Acropolis’ extant statues by Elgin.

The Parthenon constitutes the absolute symbol of Athens, of Greece, but also one of the most venerated of western civilization. The illegal stripping of its structural elements, between 1801 and 1808, initially by order of Lord Elgin (then Ambassador of Britain in Constantinople) and, following this, with the support and collaboration for their transportation to England by the United Kingdom officially, as well as the ever-constant refusal since then to return them, constitutes, for a country belonging to this civilization, a moral issue with legal dimensions.

The United Kingdom’s most recent refusal to participate in a mediation procedure, within the framework of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation, is indicative of this stance. In the joint response dated 26th March 2015 addressed to UNESCO, the British Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy and the British Minister of State for Europe announced the United Kingdom’s decision not to attend the mediation procedure for resolving the difference concerning the Parthenon Sculptures, which are in the British Museum. This letter mentions, among others, that the Sculptures “were legally acquired by Lord Elgin according to the then prevailing laws” and that the British Museum has a proprietary right as it purchased them.

When informed of this negative answer, the Association’s Board took the initiative and decision, as a legal person governed by private law, to lodge an appeal within the 6-month deadline before the European Court of Human Rights, independently of any relevant legal actions taken by the Hellenic Republic. In any case, the possibility of the Hellenic Republic’s recourse to interstate litigation on this issue remains open.

The Association’s appeal, already filed with the Secretariat of the European Court under application number 48259/15, contests the United Kingdom’s decision to retain the Sculptures, as, according to Articles 8, 9, 10 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 1 of its First Additional Protocol, there is:

  • Violation of the cultural identity as an aspect of «the right to respect for private life» (Article 8 of ECHR);
  • Violation of the cultural identity as an aspect of «the freedom of conscience» (Article 9 of ECHR);
  • Violation of the right to access to cultural information, as an aspect of «the freedom of expression» (Article 10 of ECHR);
  • Violation of the «right to an effective remedy» (Article 13 of ECHR); and
  • Violation of the right to property, in the sense of integral public access to the monument (Article 1 of the Additional Protocol to ECHR).

The “Athenians’ Association” aspiring to raise international public awareness and to have justice rendered , hopes that the truth will prevail, that the monument will be restored and that history and tradition will shine forth for the good of mankind. Because the Parthenon Sculptures, represent universal values, which will continue to fuel the civilized world this time from their birthplace, the soil of Attica.