December 5, 2006

United Nations draft resolution on return of cultural property

Posted at 2:01 pm in Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

Following earlier discussion about cultural property restitution at the United Nations, a draft resolution on Return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin has been introduced for discussion.

United Nations

4 December 2006
General Assembly
Sixty-first General Assembly
64th & 65th Meetings (AM & PM)
Delegates also Take Action on Drafts Dealing With Conflict Diamonds, Culture of Peace, Cultural Property, HIV/AIDS

By one of more than 15 resolutions and decisions adopted today as it took up the reports of its Sixth Committee (Legal), the General Assembly decided to establish an Ad Hoc Committee to consider criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission.

In a day-long meeting, the Assembly also adopted resolutions on matters ranging from diamonds that fuel conflict, to cooperative arrangements between the United Nations and regional and other organizations, the culture of peace, return or restitution of cultural property and HIV/AIDS. All but one of those actions took place without a vote.


Cultural Property

The Assembly also had before it a draft resolution on Return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin (document 61/L.15/Rev.1), which would have the Assembly call upon all relevant bodies, including agencies, funds and programmes of the United Nations system, to work with UNESCO, within their mandates, and in cooperation with Member States, to continue to address the issue of return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin and provide appropriate support accordingly.

Further by the draft, the Assembly would urge Member States to introduce effective national and international measures to prevent and combat illicit trafficking in cultural property, including special training for police, customs and border services


Action on Cultural Property Draft

Assembly Vice-President MLADINEO ( Croatia) introduced the draft resolution on Return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin (document A/61/L.15/Rev.1), which was then adopted without a vote.

The representative of the Russian Federation, while highlighting UNESCO’s role in the field, said a specific reference, in operative paragraph 16, neither judged nor predetermined the final outcome of the agency’s work. The Russian Federation called upon UNESCO’s organs to go into further detail and to proceed to make the best possible decision.

GEORGE VOULGARAKIS, Minister of Culture of Greece, thanked Member States for the unanimous adoption of the resolution on the return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin and noted that illegal trading in antiquities was a type of organized crime along the lines of illegal arms trading and trafficking in drugs or human beings. It was directly associated with money laundering and corruption. The destruction of monuments also meant the loss of vital information and cutting off artworks from their historical context so that they ceased to be integral elements of cultural unity.

He noted that, in the meantime, museums were increasingly recognizing the need for ethical acquisition policies. Voices were being raised in the scientific community and among archaeologists about the need to protect the world’s cultural heritage. Others were demanding an end to the looting of archaeological sites and illicit trafficking in antiquities, leading countries like Switzerland and Great Britain to consider passing strict laws to that end. The destruction of monuments and archaeological sites in Afghanistan and Iraq had also been highlighted by the international media, fuelled by public support.

Greece had taken it upon itself to propose the resolution just passed, so as to raise awareness about the important need to protect cultural heritage, he said. The text promoted cooperation between nations and UNESCO, with the aim of preserving the world’s cultural heritage and the timeless values it represented. It also provided for the return and restitution of cultural treasures illegally removed from their places of origin. Greece, in cooperation with other nations and institutions, had been successful this year in retrieving a number of antiquities from abroad. Two important antiquities from the J.P. Getty Museum in Los Angeles had been repatriated, while negotiations for the return of two more items from the same museum were making progress. Also, two important fragments from the Acropolis, as well as one from the Parthenon frieze, had been returned.

However, the Parthenon Sculptures remained dislodged and divided, he said. It was expected that the disputed sculptures would be returned to Greece by the British Museum, to be displayed at the New Acropolis Museum in Athens, which was now nearing completion. The reunification and restitution of antiquities completed a cultural mosaic that had been disturbed. Only through the repatriation of illegally removed antiquities could the world build a solid foundation for future generations. Since the cultural heritage of each nation was the cultural heritage of all humanity, it was the responsibility of all to protect that shared legacy.


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