The United Kingdom has rejected the UNESCO call to reconsider its position on the Parthenon Marbles and to negotiate with Greece on the return of the cultural treasures. It reiterated the claim that the 2500-year-old were acquired legally and said that the issue is one of the British Museum, not the government.
“We disagree with the Committee’s decision adopted in the closing minutes of the session and are raising issues relating to fact and procedure with UNESCO,” a U.K. government spokesperson said in an email to Artnet News on Wednesday.
In a statement last week, the UNESCO Return and Restitution intergovernmental committee (ICPRCP) urged the United Kingdom to enter talks with Greece and to find solutions for the return of the Parthenon Marbles in a government-to-government solution of the decades-long dispute.
The ICPRCP had taken such a decision at a session in Paris in late September..
Greeks saw a possible “game-changer” in this decision.
The UNESCO Committee has reportedly issued 17 recommendations for the Marbles return in the past 34 years.
“Our position is clear—the Parthenon Sculptures were acquired legally in accordance with the law at the time. The British Museum operates independently of the government and free from political interference. All decisions relating to collections are taken by the Museum’s trustees,” the UK government told Artnet News.
During the UNESCO meeting, the Greek delegation said that the British government has been rejecting an invitation to an open dialogue as the British side has been viewing the matter on an institutional level, and that the British Museum is a legal entity independent from the state.
“One should perhaps remind all concerned, that, as far as international law is concerned, the obligation to return state cultural artifacts lies squarely on the government and not on a museum,” the Greek delegation said.
The Greek delegation also argued that new historical data deriving from the Ottoman era showed that the sculptures were illegally acquired by Lord Elgin at the time, alleging that the British Museum’s possession of the Parthenon Sculptures was against the law.