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Turkey Employs Human Rights Law in Assault on British Museum
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Turkey Employs Human Rights Law in Assault on British Museum

Screen Shot 2012-12-10 at 12.55.57 PMIn January, Turkey will be turning to human rights law in a novel claim to repatriate sculptures currently housed in the British Museum. The lawsuit could use human rights legislation that has previously been used to overturn the convictions of terrorists to wrest contested treasures from the grips of museums.

The sculptures at issue, which are originally from ancient wonder the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, were acquired by the British Museum in the mid-19th century. Turkey argues that they should be returned to their original site of Bodrum in southwest Turkey.

The lawsuit will be filed at the European Court of Human Rights on January 30, 2013. It is a dramatic move that will serve as a test case for art repatriation worldwide. According to cultural property law specialist Norman Palmer, “”I have not heard of it [human rights] being used to raise a claim for the specific restitution of particular tangible objects … This would be a novel claim.”

There are reportedly 30 attorneys acting on the behalf of Turkish interests. So far these attorneys have remained silent on planned legal arguments. Human rights attorney Gwendolen Morgan has suggested that “the most likely line of attack” would be a claim that the UK has violated  article 1, 1st protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights, “Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions.” Morgan further suggests that Turkish authorities will use the litigation to place moral pressure on the British government.

If Turkey were successful in their claim, the case could have disastrous consequences for the world’s museums. Countries who are seeking the return of cultural artifacts, including Greece and Nigeria, will no doubt keep a close watch on this case.


  • Dear Kimberly

    It is really funny how Governments can lose their sense and temperance. The idea of repatriation is surpassed and must be abolished at once.
    But the fact of using the Human Rights Law is more than a non-sense.
    If Turkey is interested in having back the Halicarnassus Sculptures, I am sure that they will install them in the Room of PALMYRERENE Sculptures that will be sent back to SYRIA. Inst it?



  • I do not think it can succeed legally, but I can see it getting attention.I do not think it can succeed legally, but I can see it getting attention.

  • Almost all my articles are based on the fact that cultural artefacts constitute a decisive difference between human beings and animals and that the society that produces an artefact has an undoubted right to use and enjoy the use of the artefact as it wishes. Hence a withholding of the artefact is a violation of its human right. I have published the following note in the internet.

    I have argued for years in almost all my articles that withholding the cultural artefacts of a people is a permanent violation of their human right to independent cultural development and practice. In one of the articles I stated: “Westerners must finally accept that the stealing, directly or indirectly, the cultural objects of others, constitutes a violation of their human rights and in the case of funeral objects such as the “vigango”, a violation of their religious rights. The greed of some for exotic art cannot be placed above the human rights of others.”

    In another article, I wrote,” The withholding of the cultural objects of the Chinese, for whatever reason, is in itself a violation of the human rights of the Chinese to culture and cultural development as foreseen in Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). Moreover, the social and cultural development envisaged in Article 6 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1988) can hardly be achieved if a State or community is deprived of its cultural objects”.

    Faced squarely to determine whether withholding cultural object of another nation is a violation of their human rights, a court that is properly and adequately advised, cannot but come to the conclusion that the withholding is a gr

  • Dear Kimberly and Kwame Opoku
    With due respect, Human Right is a concept associated to living beings. Also, the link between living and died societies could apply to some areas where the living citizens could be descendants of the former population. In that case, they could be heirs of the past societies and could have one cultural identification with the concepts, believes and the past in general.
    The boundaries of the world nowadays are quite different of the ancient world. In the case of Turkey now, we have very silly appeal!!! The modern Turkish people ( all loveable and respectful ) are not minimally linked to the people that have built and was responsible for the construction of the mausoleum of Halicarnassus . The glorious days of Halicarnassus were gone and the people vanished completely and we are discussing about valuable sculptures only .
    In the same field we mention again the Palmyrene sculptures ( all funerary slabs) that were removed from the tower tombs of Palmyra ( Syria) and are displayed in Turkey . Are they returning to Syria ?
    All that facts lead us to need to re-think the question of what is the cultural patrimony of mankind in the new globalized world .
    The argument presented now is not valid and cannot be considered . Lets use our time and energy to discuss a new approach and a new patrimonial law that can solve the issues of importance .
    Christiano de Monaco

  • Sorry! Where written died societies, read dead societies

  • The argument is just that — for the sake of argument. There is no valid legal basis for return, only this ethical one. So of course people use what they have to make the arguments.

  • Dears,
    Let’s see a short list of the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul… After reading it, we conclude that the main items of its amazing collection comes from another places. If the Argument of Human Right could be used in this case, it could be used to leave many rooms of the Istanbul Museum empty . Then, would be preferable to leave the things as they are !

    (***) Alexander Sarcophagus, found in the necropolis of Sidon
    (***) Sarcophagus of the Crying Women, also found in Sidon
    Sarcophagi of Tabnit and the Satrap
    The Lycian tomb, a monumental tomb
    (***) Glazed tile images from the Ishtar Gate of Babylon
    Statues from ancient antiquity until the end of the Roman Era, from Aphrodisias, Ephesus and Miletus
    (***) One of the three known tablets of the Treaty of Kadesh.
    (***) The obelisk of the Assyrian king Adad-nirari III
    (***) Tablet archive containing some 75,000 documents with cuneiform inscriptions
    (***) Artifacts from the early civilizations of Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Arabia and Egypt
    (***) Siloam inscription, which made headlines in July 2007 when Israel asked for its return
    Parts of statues from the Temple of Zeus found at Bergama
    (***) Treaty of Kadesh
    Statue of a lion, the only piece saved from the hands of British archaeologists in the Mausoleum of Maussollos
    (***) Palmyra Statuary
    Snake’s head from the Serpentine Column erected in the Hippodrome of Constantinople
    Mother-Goddess Cybele and votive stelai
    Busts of Alexander the Great and Zeus
    Fragments from the temple of Athena at Assos
    The Troy exhibit
    800,000 Ottoman coins, seals, decorations and medals
    regards, CM

  • The Siloam (Shiloach) inscription or Silwan inscription is a passage of inscribed text found in the Hezekiah tunnel which brings water from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam, located in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. The inscription records the construction of the tunnel in the 8th century BCE. It is among the oldest extant records of its kind written in Hebrew using the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet.
    In 2007, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski met with Turkey’s ambassador to Israel, Namik Tan, and requested that the tablet be returned to Jerusalem as a “goodwill gesture.” Turkey rejected the request, stating that the Siloam inscription was Imperial Ottoman property, and thus the cultural property of the Turkish Republic. President Abdullah Gul said that Turkey would arrange for the inscription to be shown in Jerusalem for a short period.

  • We go around in circles on these discussions. Here is a summary:

    JOHN: I live in Turbia. England needs to return the sacred Turbian stone to us.
    MARY: You know that Turbia did not exist at the time the stone was carved, or recovered?
    JOHN: It doesn’t matter. It is Turbian. I can feel it in my soul.
    MARY: You know that Turbia’s museum is full of artifacts from neighboring countries?
    MARY: You know I don’t actually have your stone, right?
    MARY: You know it’s not actually *your* stone, exactly, right? It’s not even really Turbia’s…
    MARY: In so many ways.

  • Dear Kimberly
    There is no much to say about this argument. I hope it fail! It will be a non-sense if succeed. And more… who knows it will be the starting point for another phase of this matter?
    regards, Christiano

  • How can countries like Turkey and China possibly rely upon human rights laws given their flagrant disregard of human rights in their own countries! Turkey actually has more journalists in prison that Iran or China.