Following the rejection of UNESCO’s mediation proposal by the UK government and the British Museum in March 2015, a Greek entity called the ‘Athenians’ Association’ has decided to bring an action seeking the return of the Parthenon Sculptures (or Elgin Marbles) before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg. According to last week’s press statement, the claim has been lodged with the court under application number 48259/15.
The claim is aimed at the United Kingdom and alleges violations of the following rights under the European Convention on Human Rights:
- cultural identity as an aspect of «the right to respect for private life» (Article 8 of ECHR);
- cultural identity as an aspect of «the freedom of conscience» (Article 9 of ECHR);
- the right to access cultural information, as an aspect of «the freedom of expression» (Article 10 of ECHR);
- the «right to an effective remedy» (Article 13 of ECHR); and
- the right to property, in the sense of integral public access to the monument (Article 1 of the Additional Protocol to ECHR).
The Athenians’ Association has been in existence since 1895 and is specifically mandated with “making provision for the preservation and conservation of the monuments, works of art, etc., linked to the history of Athens”. Seeing as this is a private entity (or at least one with no clear and direct links to the government of Greece), the claim is apparently unrelated to any influence or action on the part of the Republic itself. Last week’s statement makes clear that any state-based action would in principle remain open.
If this case makes it before the full Court – that is, if it makes it past the preliminary stage – this may at last be a chance for an international court to fully consider the link between rights to culture (or cultural identity) and human rights generally. One should hope that cultural rights can be considered with the seriousness that they deserve. Even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that everyone has the right “to participate in the cultural life of the community” and to “enjoy the arts”. And how can one participate in or enjoy something… if integral parts of it are being kept 3,000 km away?