By: Junior Associate
Pace International Law Review
A two-day conference was held in Cairo, Egypt to deal with the issue of stolen national artifacts from around the world. The conference will include deputy culture ministers and museum directors from twenty one nations; Italy, China, Libya, Peru and Greece are among those in attendance.
Zahi Hawass, the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, has taken the lead on this initiative and has urged states to draw up lists of ancient treasures stolen from their lands and displayed in museums abroad. “Museums are the main source for stolen artifacts. If they stop (buying stolen artifacts) the theft will be less,” Hawass told the delegates at the conference.
Hawass has been pushing to reclaim some major pharaonic treasures Egypt says were taken by foreign powers, including the Rosetta Stone, which is now in the British Museum and Queen Nefertiti’s bust, currently located at Berlin’s Neues Museum. “We have good cooperation with other countries. We have had artifacts returned from Spain, Italy but the number one country that has returned artifacts is the United States,” Hawass told the two-day conference in Cairo. A major goal of the conference is to ensure implementation of a 1970 convention of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which calls for countries to take steps to prevent the illegal export of national treasures. “There is a real problem of antiquities trafficking through theft, colonialism and the negative role some foreign missions play,” told Ayman Slaiman, from the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums, to Reuters.
Greece is seeking the return of stone sculptures, inscriptions and architectural features taken from the Parthenon in Athens by British diplomat Lord Elgin in the 19th century during Ottoman rule, which now reside in the British Museum. The antiques in question are invaluable to the concerned countries. The Rosetta stone is more than 2200 years old and includes hieroglyphs inscribed by Egyptian priests. “It is not a question of legality but of goodwill and that cannot fall under a paragraph of law,” said Elena Korka, a delegate from Greece’s Culture Ministry.