Event report: cultural property and what it means for the settlement of international disputes

IMI was proud to support the Florence International Mediation Chambers’ recent event on cultural property and what it means for the settlement of international disputes. YMI member Cécile Maitre-Ferri was in attendance, and has reported on event highlights below.

Disputes involving cultural properties can vary greatly, and to start with, a distinction was made between contractual and non-contractual disputes. It was said that contractual disputes could undeniably profit from ADR for the same reasons it is valuable in most commercial disputes.

With regards to non-contractual disputes, the conference dealt mostly with return and restitution of art and cultural properties, and a difference was made between private and public ownership of the item. It was observed that when ownership is public, e.g. museums, there has been a tendency to see litigation as the solution. There is now a noticeable growing willingness to enter discussions, the speakers noting that from their experience negotiation, especially diplomatic negotiation, was used more than mediation.

Private owners, it was argued, tend to attach a greater monetary value to the item. They see it as an investment, which makes compromises more difficult, since the State claiming the item cannot be seen as paying for fear of promoting theft.

A very strong message throughout the conference was that of the need to protect cultural property, especially in conflict zones suffering from plundering and destruction. It was noted that with the current number of conflicts, especially in the Middle East, it is to be expected that there will be more and more cultural property conflicts.

With that in mind, some of the solutions discussed were the fact that the PCA had been steadily diversifying its scope and had already been working on the subject of art looted during WWII, the recent foundation of the Court of Arbitration for Art (“CafA”) in the Hague to resolve disputes in the wider art community through mediation and arbitration, and the even more recent signature of the Singapore Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation.

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