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District of Columbia Archives • Elginism

Showing 3 results for the tag: District of Columbia.

February 24, 2015

Germany sued in US courts over Nazi looted Guelph treasure

Posted at 2:02 pm in Similar cases

Once again, the courts of the District of Columbia seems to be one of the destinations of choice for litigation involving Nazi loot.

In this instance, the items in question are the Guelph Treasures, which two claimants were sold under duress by their ancestors in 1935 to the state of Prussia, then overseen by high-ranking Nazi Hermann Göring. The treasures are currently displayed in Berlin’s Bode Museum.

Part of the Guelph treasure currently on display in Berlin

Part of the Guelph treasure currently on display in Berlin

From:
Wall Street Journal

Germany Is Sued in U.S. Court Over Medieval Treasure Acquired by Nazis
By Mary M. Lane
Updated Feb. 24, 2015 12:13 a.m. ET

BERLIN—A year after Germany pledged to bolster its efforts to return art stolen by the Nazis, Jewish claimants to medieval relics valued at millions of dollars say the government isn’t living up to its promise.

Two claimants to a collection of medieval Christian treasure filed a suit in the U.S. District Court in Washington on Monday against the German government and the government-controlled museum that owns the artifacts. They allege their ancestors sold the collection, known as the Guelph treasure, under duress in 1935 to the state of Prussia, then overseen by high-ranking Nazi Hermann Göring.
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March 22, 2014

Lessons learned from Agudas Chasidei Chabad v. Russian Federation, et al.

Posted at 7:10 pm in Similar cases

I have mentioned previously about the dispute between the Chabad Jews & Russia, over the requests for the return of two disputed collections of books & manuscripts.

A few days ago, I came across this interesting review of the current state of the case (which still remains a long way from being resolved. Now, although I don’t believe the courts of the District of Columbia were being particularly sensible in some of their judgements on the case, there are many things that can be learned from it.

In many cases involving cultural property restitution claims, there is a split between those who feel that the case should be settled by diplomatic means, and those who believe it should be settled through legal action. The reality however isn’t so simple. In many cases, the ideal option would be to use informal negotiations to solve the issue, but what happens when this doesn’t work? If the party currently holding the disputed artefacts feels that they are in a comfortable situation & feels their ownership is secure, what reason is there for them to want to enter into some sort of negotiations where the aim of the other party is clearly to take back the artefact. One might suggest, that moral obligations or overwhelming public opinion ought to be enough of a lever, to start negotiations, but the number of well founded restitution cases that continue to be stonewalled by large institutions around the world shows that this is often not the case.

It is clear that sometimes, more is needed, at least as a catalyst to start serious negotiations. Italy was pressing for years for the return of such items as the Euphonios Krater from the Metropolitan Museum, but was only successful once the threat of legal action made the Met enter into serious negotiations. Legal actions is far from the only way of doing this however. Other countries such as Iran and Egypt have experienced success, following threats to withdraw cooperation with the countries or institutions in question.

What all this is leading to, is that whether or not we feel it is the right approach to take, legal action is sometimes going to be taken as a means to resolve restitution cases. Legal action can take many possible forms, and if you got five sets of lawyers in the room, each would have different ideas about how to approach a specific case. What this case goes to show though, is that depending on the circumstances, even if one wins the legal case, the means of enforcing such wins in international disputes are limited. In the case discussed in this article, the Chabad Jews won the case, the court has tried (albeit in a somewhat presumptuous / naive way) to enforce the ruling (and risked creating a major diplomatic incident in the process), but has so far been unsuccessful in progressing things beyond the status quo at the outset of the case. Russia still holds onto the manuscripts & still appears completely dis-inclined to consider returning them.

What is needed in such cases is an international forum of some sort (if it is legal action we are talking about, this would have to be a court, but there are other options). There are already the precedent of international courts, such as the International Criminal Court in the Hague, but the reality is that the handle only very specific cases & cultural property falls far outside their remit.

Within the Europe, there are two additional options (that have as yet been unexplored by Greece), the European Court of Human Rights & the European Court of Justice. Organisations such as UNESCO form another possible entity that could oversee the Adjudication of cultural property claims, and it is through their mandated mediation process that Greece hopes to solve the dispute over the Parthenon Sculptures. The key issue here however is that there is no obligations for countries to enter into the mediation process. At present, to the best of my knowledge, Greece has had no luck in getting Britain to actually enter into the mediation with them.

At least among advocates of the return of the Parthenon Sculptures, legal action continues to be a divisive issue, although I believe that to an extent, this is because people worry about the risks it might also carry & sometimes because they do not fully understand the nature of the tools available to them. Where cases can not be moved forward by diplomatic means though, other options are needed, and this is one of the clearest paths to take in such instances.

One of the manuscripts requested by the Chabad Jews

One of the manuscripts requested by the Chabad Jews

From:
American Society of International Law

Reviewing the Agudas Chasidei Chabad v. Russian Federation, et al. Dispute
March 19, 2014 Volume: 18 Issue: 8

Introduction
Nationalization of looted property continues to trigger international legal disputes. It has been almost nine decades since the Lubavitch Chasidim or Chabad Chasidim (Chabad), a Jewish religious entity, began the quest to reconstitute its collection of sacred books and manuscripts currently held by the Russian Federation.[1] While Chabad is now a New York incorporated entity, it has strong roots in the Russian Empire from which it emerged.[2] This litigation highlights the challenges in resolving historical disputes against a foreign sovereign in national courts.

The property contested in Agudas Chasidei Chabad v. Russian Federation, et al. consists of a library with more than 12,000 works dating back to the 1770s (Library) and an archive of over 25,000 pages of Chabad Rebbes’ documents (Archive).[3] Collectively, they are referred to as “the Collection” in court proceedings.[4] Chabad considers the Collection to be sacred and the Archives to be an “essential legacy . . . something concrete that . . . incorporates in itself both the sanctity, the very presence, the very personality of the Rebbe himself.”[5]
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February 28, 2013

The Court of the District of Columbia & the Chabad jews – a possible solution to the Parthenon Marbles case?

Posted at 2:29 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

Paul Barford raises an interesting question on his blog, regarding a recent case in the USA. Essentially, the gist of the post relates back to an earlier story, about the fallout from a court case in the courts of the District of Columbia.

The case was brought by Chabad Jews, who have been campaigning for the return of two collections of books & manuscripts from Russia since the 1980s. They filed a lawsuit in 2004. In July 2010, the court ordered the Russia to return the library & archives to Chabad. At this point, Russia ignored the judgement. A month ago, on 16th January 2013, the same court sanctioned the Russian Government $50,00 per day for not complying with their ruling.

Since then, Russia’s foreign ministry has taken the retaliatory move, of recommending that two government agencies sue the US Library of Congress. If this case was to proceed, it would take place in a Russian court. It is taken against the Library of Congress, because through the inter-library loans programme (of which the LOC was the conduit), in 1994, seven books were lent to the Shabad group & never returned.

Russia has also taken the move of placing an embargo on any loans to museums in the USA, due to fears that artefacts will be seized.

Now, I’m not at all sure at this stage what the outcome of all this will be – but, the fact remains, that sanctions taken in a court outside the home country still have a potential to provoke a reaction.

Previously, I have been party to suggestions that a similar move could be taken by the Greek Government against the British Museum & the District of Columbia was mentioned as one possible jurisdiction under which this might take place. Now, I’m hoping that if it did take place, it would follower a calmer course than the current case, but it is indisputable, that the threat of legal action based on this precedent would be a strong incentive to negotiate.

Part of the problem with the Parthenon Marbles case, is that there has never been enough pressure placed against the British Museum / British Government. Essentially, they don’t feel that they currently have to respond to anything. If requests for negotiations are ever issued by Greece, these are closed out fairly quickly by laying down pre-conditions that Greece will never agree to – essentially asking them to give up something before the discussions can even start. Something needs to be done to show the British Museum that Greece means business – that the issue will not just go away.

Italy did not succeed in their requests against the US, until initiating legal action – although in many cases, the (serious) threat of legal action was eough to start off proper negotiations leading to the settlement i.e. it never actually went to court.

Clearly, in the case of the Chabad Jews (of which much more could be written), negotiating was off the agenda, as the case is being pursued to the bitter end, & looks like it could develop into a full blown diplomatic incident if one side doesn’t back down. Essentially (from the perspective of an outsider) they have taken a weapon & used it unwisely – and could end up blowing off their own feet in the process.

Notwithstanding the above point though, the fact remains – the legal route offers a path to negotiation & resolution of the case that has not yet been properly explored. Greece has tried the gentle discussions route for years & made little progress – so perhaps it is now time to take a different tack?

From:
The Art Newspaper

Russian agencies move to sue US Library of Congress
Threatened lawsuits could result in sanctions against the US, in retaliation for $50,000 per day penalties against Russia
By Laura Gilbert. Web only
Published online: 12 February 2013

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has recommended that two Russian government agencies sue the US Library of Congress, the news agency Pravda reported Friday. The move, seemingly in retaliation for US court-ordered sanctions against Russia costing $50,000 per day, is the latest twist in the ongoing dispute between the Brooklyn-based Jewish group Chabad and Russia.

Chabad has been trying to obtain two collections of Jewish books and manuscripts from Russia since the 1980s and filed a lawsuit in 2004. On 16 January, a Washington, DC District Court sanctioned the Russian government $50,000 per day because Russia had not followed the court’s July 2010 order to turn over the library and archive to Chabad. Shortly after the order, Russia initiated an embargo, which is still in effect, on lending art to American museums, claiming it feared Chabad would seize its art in order to enforce the judgment. American museums responded by refusing to loan art works to Russian institutions. Chabad, for its part, says it will not claim Russian art that is immune from seizure under US law but would enforce the judgment by seizing other Russian property in the US and through monetary sanctions.
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