[Lee Jae-min] Law on the return of artifacts
October 5, 2010
“One of the current issues that arouses a heated emotional response from the people involved is the repatriation of cultural properties. The issue attracted global attention when the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York decided to return to Turkey, after a lengthy legal battle, the so-called Lydian Hoard, which comprises 363 jewels and artifacts from the seventh century B.C. Presently, there are many pending disputes between the originating states and the museums and states that own artifacts. Originating countries make such strenuous efforts because cultural artifacts are considered to represent the formation of national or ethnic identity.
If cultural artifacts represent national identity, each and every item is important and perhaps needs to be returned. In fact, however, there are two distinct groups of cultural properties located outside originating states: those forcefully or illegally removed from the place of origin, sometimes by colonial powers or privat looters, and those removed through legitimate transactions. Regarding the latter category, the only way to bring the cultural property back home is by repurchase, lease, rent or donation by the owner. Obviously, all of these options are decisions to be made by the owner.
The biggest problem is the first category of illegal removal. This usually involves forceful removal by colonial powers or illegal excavation by looters, followed by sale in the international black market. This category has been the subject of international discussions (the Lydian Hoard also falls under this category) and led to the adoption of relevant international conventions. They are the 1970 UNESCO Convention and 1995 UNIDROIT Convention.”
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