Bitterman on Settling Cultural Property Disputes

Amy Bitterman has posted on SSRN an article discussing the role of settlement in cultural property disptutes:

In the past, collectors and museums often stonewalled claimant countries seeking repatriation of looted artwork, relying on lengthy and costly litigation to discourage developing countries from pursuing cultural repatriation claims. Although some laws were in place concerning the import and export of such pieces, for the most part the market in antiquities was unregulated. However, recent events have led to a number of important changes in this area of law. While in the past, most claimants of stolen antiquities were developing countries with limited resources, recent decisions by the governments of Greece and Italy to pursue criminal prosecutions of dealers and curators have changed the legal landscape. In addition, the mass looting of archaeological sites and museums in Iraq resulted in the US adoption of the 1954 Hague Convention, and reforms in British law governing replevin cases. Other recent changes in this area that have significant legal ramifications include the adoption in 2008 of new acquisition guidelines by the Association of Art Museum Directors and a 2009 accord between the United States and China.

Using a hypothetical drawn from a number of cases and typical scenarios involving stolen art, the article discusses the pros and cons of a variety of potential resolutions in light of these developments and the unique considerations of art recovery cases. The author argues that the settlement process is particularly useful in cultural heritage disputes given that the parties often have mutual interests in preservation and excavation; thus, the winner take all approach of litigation may not be the best approach to resolving ownership claims.

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