Governments, public institutions, corporations, minority groups and individuals are increasingly seeking to recover their stolen or lost cultural property through court proceedings or Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) methods. This holds true for Holocaust survivors and their families who try to reclaim art confiscated by Nazis and collaborators, but also for indigenous communities and other victims of colonial or imperial looting. The delay in art restitution claims, as a result of past involuntary dispossession, is due to inaccessibility of information, statute of limitations, a lack of international legislation, and fear of setting precedent, among other things.
Art restitution cases are complicated due to a number of factors. For instance, it is not always clear what constitutes looted art. With regard to Nazi-looted art, opinions differ as to whether so-called Fluchtgut (escape-goods) should be eligible for restitution. Also, many of these cases concern past dispossession during armed conflict. These circumstances often make it impossible to gather evidence to support a claim of looting.
The restitution of cultural property used to be almost exclusively an affair for state actors. It is a relatively recent development that private actors take the opportunity to claim ownership of cultural property with the consequent introduction of new legal implications. Therefore, it is not always clear what procedures are available and which law applies. The increasing influence of international and regional legislation adds further complexity. Different legal outcomes between countries has led to a considerable degree of legal uncertainty making it difficult to determine the legal position. Things become even more complicated in the case of competing claims to the same artwork. Finally, restitution cases demand special attention for emotional, cultural, ethical, political, historical, moral and religious considerations.
This multiplicity of factors demonstrates the need for expert advice on restitution claims. GMW lawyers harbors expertise in:
- Nazi-looted art
- UNESCO cultural heritage
- Former East Germany confiscations
- Colonial or imperial loot
- Human remains
- Middle Eastern looted art and antiquities
GMW lawyers advises and represents both public and private parties who have been victims, directly or indirectly, of involuntary dispossession or are confronted with claims despite the presence of good faith. We guide clients through the process of filing a claim or being confronted with a claim and carefully consider which avenue to take for further action. Our firm provides professional provenance research services, enjoying the advantage of being located near excellent documentation and research institutes.
For more information or assistance with art recovery, please contact us.