Potential Seizure of Persian Tablets Ruffles Feathers

Posted on February 23, 2009

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A DC Court judge awarded victims of a suicide bombing in Jerusalem $412 million dollars in their suit against Iran for complicity.  A controversy has ensued as the victims are seeking to enforce their judgment — by confiscating Persian antiquities on display at U.S. museums.

Some cultural property scholars aren’t too happy about the proposition.  They consider it a “ransoming of cultural artifacts.”  Gil Stein of the Oriental Institute has analogized it to the Russians taking possession of the Declaration of Independence.

I feel the analogy is false and sensational.  The Declaration of Independence is a legal document, and in the possession of the US Government in D.C.  Wouldn’t federally owned ancient materials be subject to seizure in order to satisfy a court judgment?

Under the current international legal scheme, cultural property is just that — property.   There are some archaeologists who would like to see it protected on the same level of ivory or other items of which ownership and trade is prohibited, but as of yet this hasn’t happened.

Cultural artifacts have no special status under the law that would make them immune from seizure in order to satisfy court judgments.

Granted, this is only one aspect of a very complex issue.  Get more of the story by reading Terror victims seeking Persian relics in court on MSNBC.


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