Friday, July 14, 2006

Terrorism litigation threatens loaned antiquities

I find the following article very troubling! This type of court ruling could eliminate the willingness of countries to loan cultural exhibits to institutions in the United States and severely restrict the access of American scholars to "Old World" historical artifacts. Cultural heritage should not be used as a political pawn between nations. World history is a heritage we all share so historical artifacts should be treated as items in the public trust not subject to ownership and sale by private individuals.

Antiquities Stuck in Legal Limbo - Los Angeles Times: "For decades, scholars at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute have painstakingly pieced together ancient clay tablets they had on loan from the government of Iran ? deciphering the cuneiform writings and studying what these thousands of fragments revealed about the history of Persia.

But now, this treasure trove sits in the middle of a politically charged legal battle that has museum professionals worried about the willingness of other countries to loan artifacts to the U.S.

A federal court last month upheld a decision to seize and sell off the collection, in order to raise funds to compensate Americans injured in a terrorist attack in the Middle East. The reasoning, according to court documents, is that the Islamic Republic of Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism.

The lawsuit dates back to a 1997 attack in Israel, when suicide bombers attacked the Ben Yehuda mall in downtown Jerusalem. Five people were killed and more than 190 were injured. Hamas, the party that controls the current Palestinian government and has received some support from Iran, claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Some of the survivors were Americans, who filed suit in federal court in Chicago against Iran in 2001. They said that the country was responsible for their injuries because of its support of Hamas.

A federal judge in 2003 ruled in their favor and, when Iran didn't appear in court to fight the claim, awarded the survivors more than $400 million.

That opened the way for the plaintiffs to go after Iran's assets in America ? including the collection of ancient Persian tablets.

Patty Gerstenblith, a professor of cultural property law at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago, said this was believed to be the first case to link cultural artifacts on loan to terrorism litigation."