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Patrimony in Peril Symposium: Lawyers and Academics Meet to Discuss Antiquity Protection

October 16, 2019

On October 11th, the North Carolina Journal of International Law, in partnership with the Graduate and Professional Student Federation, hosted its Volume 45 Symposium entitled “Patrimony in Peril.”

The symposium, which took place at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill campus, featured a diverse array of speakers ranging from academics to legal practitioners.

Friend and colleague of the Antiquities Coalition, Helena Arose, were among attendants and shared details of the meeting with us.

Heritage in Crisis: A Call for Repatriation and Restitution Efforts to Work Together

The keynote speaker, Donald Burris of Burris & Schoenberg LLP, kicked off the symposium by discussing his years of work on cases related to Nazi-looted art, including the notable case of the Republic of Austria v. Altmann.

Following his presentation, a panel session was held on Heritage in Crisis, which featured Professor Amr al-Azm (The Day After Initiative, ATHAR Project) and Marc Masurovsky (Holocaust Art Restitution Project). presented on local efforts to promote awareness and mobilize protection for looted and destroyed cultural heritage in Syria, as well as his recent projects, including a study of antiquities trafficking on Facebook.

Mr. Masurovsky addressed the need for different groups focused on repatriation and restitution efforts to start working together. He also called for changes to the repatriation or restitution process, noting the imbalance of power, the lack of honest discussion, and the need for new definitions to terms such as “cultural significance” and “culture of humanity.”

How Provenance and Identification Play A Role in International Law and Foreign Policy

The second panel of the day centered around ‘provenance’ and ‘identification’. The first speaker was University Distinguished Research Professor of Law, Patty Gerstenblith, who presented on the differing definitions of provenance and provenience, and how each factor into international law related to looted antiquities, providing case studies.

Leila Amineddoleh of Amineddoleh & Associates LLC discussed the diplomatic aspects of repatriation, and how it intersects with U.S. foreign policy.

Discussing Legal and Policy Considerations of Stolen Artifacts

The final panel, legal and policy considerations, featured three speakers. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karin Orenstein (E.D.N.Y.) discussed the National Stolen Property Act and ways to investigate if buyers or dealers had knowledge of theft or engaged in conscious avoidance of knowledge of robbery.

Stefan Cassella, founder of Asset Forfeiture Law LLC, spoke on using asset forfeiture to recover stolen artwork, discussing difficulties and issues through case studies.

Simon Frankle of Covington and Burling LLP ended the panel with a presentation on issues in litigation related to the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act of 2016.

Patrimony in Peril


Each panel concluded with dedicated time for questions that produced lively discussion in each case. The day ended with a Q&A Panel featuring all speakers, each able to provide their perspective on different questions raised.

To close, a UNC law student asked the panel what students such as himself should do to help with solving these issues as they look to begin their careers. Panelists encouraged attendees to educate the public, think creatively, work collaboratively, and engage in activism.

Key Takeaways

  • Collaboration is necessary to combat looting: Many speakers emphasized that collaboration is necessary to successfully combat looting and protect cultural heritage.
    • those working to protect cultural heritage at different levels (local, regional, national, international),
    • those working in different disciplines (lawyers, museums, archaeologists, law enforcement officials),
    • and stakeholders from different groups who seek repatriation of cultural heritage (Nazi-Looted Art, Colonial Loot, Illicit Antiquities, Stolen Art) should work together.
  • Lawyers can help implement solutions: Given their direct involvement in cases related to the illicit trafficking of antiquities and to the repatriation of cultural heritage, lawyers and legal practitioners are in a unique position to develop and implement solutions to the problem of cultural racketeering.
  • Think creatively moving forward: These are interdisciplinary, complex issues that require creative thinking, collaborative work, and activism from aspiring lawyers and from those working in the field.

Volume 45 of the NCJIL featuring articles from all speakers is forthcoming. For more information, read volume 44 here.