2014 Archived News

UNESCO and moving forward

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Amid the media attention of Amal Alamuddin-Clooney's visit to Athens to advise the Greek Government on its policy options to secure the return of those sculptures of the Parthenon held in the British Museum another piece of news was released: the decision of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin to stipulate a 6 month limit on the time for parties to respond to calls for mediation over disputed cultural property.

The "committee with the long name", as it is called affectionately by UNESCO aficionados, is the body which supported the Greek appeal for mediation over the Parthenon marbles in October 2013. It is worth noting that this issue has been a standing item on its agenda since 1984. The only response from the British Government in 12 months, and that only when asked, is that it will respond in due course. It is difficult to see what difference this new stipulation will make, other than moral pressure on the British Government, for what that is worth.

There is no legal mechanism to make the British Government comply. Even if it did agree to comply, that would only be the start of a long process. Presumably both parties would have to agree to mutually acceptable mediators, a predictably lengthy process. Then both sides would presumably have the right to offer evidence in a quasi judicial process. Then eventually, if a decision is reached, perhaps there might be a right of appeal. Finally, if a decision were made in favour of reunification, the British Government would have to repeal or amend the British Museum Act (1963) to make it legally possible for the British Museum Trustees to divest themselves of this cultural property held in their trust.

Add to this the competition on the right of British politics to show the most macho opposition to any hint of outside diktat to the British Government and we are talking of not just months but probably years. So, a quick fix it is not. But if the eventual outcome is reunification it is a journey worth travelling.

01 eddie Eddie O'Hara, Chairman