Greece reported to be seeking International Justice for the Parthenon

The Ilissos sculpture, on display in London, originally adorned the Parthenon
The Ilissos sculpture, on display in London, originally adorned the Parthenon

With 2016 marking the 200th anniversary of the acquisition of the Parthenon sculptures by Parliament from Lord Elgin, there will likely be a lot of attention paid to the long-running dispute. The Guardian reported yesterday on a legal summary authored by Geoffrey Robertson, Norman Palmer, and Amal Clooney. The possibility of bringing a claim before the ICJ, raising public support, and continuing to generate goodwill towards reunification of the monument in Athens are the major themes of the 141 page summary, available via the Guardian. But the major focus of the claim now seems to be a call for justice for the sculptures, an argument I’ve made as well building on the well-established principle of environmental justice.

The reporting by Helena Smith focuses on the work by advocates in Athens:

As campaigners prepare to mark the 200th anniversary of the antiquities’ “captivity” in London, Athens is working at forging alliances that would further empower its longstanding battle to retrieve the sculptures.

“We are trying to develop alliances which we hope would eventually lead to an international body like the United Nations to come with us against the British Museum,” the country’s culture minister, Aristides Baltas, revealed in an interview.

“If the UN represents all nations of the world and all nations of the world say ‘the marbles should be returned’ then we’ll go to court because the British Museum would be against humanity,” he said. “We do not regard the Parthenon as exclusively Greek but rather as a heritage of humanity.”

But the politician admitted there was always the risk of courts issuing a negative verdict that would wreck Athens’ chances of having the artworks reunited with the magnificent monument they once adorned.

“Courts do not by definition regard [any] issue at the level of history or morality or humanity-at-large. They look at the laws,” said Baltas, an academic and philosopher who played a pivotal role in founding Syriza, Greece’s governing leftist party. “As there are no hard and fast rules regarding the issue of returning treasures taken away from various countries, there is no indisputable legal basis.”

Helena Smith, Greece Looks to International Justice to Regain Parthenon Marbles from UK, The Guardian, May 8, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/may/08/greece-international-justice-regain-parthenon-marbles-uk.
Derek Fincham, The Parthenon Sculptures and Cultural Justice, 23 Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal 943 (2013).
Christopher Hitchens, A Home for the Marbles, The New York Times, Jun. 19, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/19/opinion/19iht-edhitchens.html.
Michael Kimmelman, Elgin Marble Argument in a New Light, The New York Times, Jun. 24, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/arts/design/24abroad.html.
John Henry Merryman, Whither the Elgin Marbles, in Imperialism, art and restitution 98 (Cambridge Univ Pr 2006).
David Rudenstine, Lord Elgin and the Ottomans: The Question of Permission, 23 Cardozo L. Rev. 449 (2001).

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