Title: The recovery of stolen religious artefacts in the face of cultural heritage law’s commercial imperative - insights from the litigation experience of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Presented by: Nicolas Augoustinos

Advisors: Professor Craig James Forrest and Dr Lucas Lixinski

When: 10-10.45am​, Thursday 28 January 2021

Where: Online via Zoom

Abstract: 

The international campaign which the Autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus has conducted for the recovery of religious artefacts stolen from its sites in occupied northern Cyprus and trafficked in the international antiquities black market following the 1974 Turkish invasion, has established some important legal precedents in the field of cultural heritage law warranting further research.

This Mid-Thesis Review Milestone Presentation focuses on a key legal obstacle encountered by the Church, namely, the characterisation of the Church’s artefacts as ordinary movable property under private international law (choice of law) rules, and the consequent application of the lex situs principle (whereby good faith purchasers and the laundering of the Church’s stolen artefacts are brought into play against the Church as original owner).

This presentation looks more closely at this characterisation issue in the context of the Church’s litigation experience and argues that, despite this obstacle, the Church, in its capacity as a holder of rights under law, is a beneficiary of developments in existing law and suggested reforms that support the claims the Church has made to recover its heritage. In addition, the presentation will make its own contribution to the reform debate by highlighting how the acknowledged inability of the commercial imperative underlying the current operation of cultural heritage law, to properly address the metaphysical or sacred nature of the artefacts the Church is seeking to recover, constitutes a significant ‘gap’ in current law which is yet to be corrected.