The International Journal of Restorative Justice


Restitution and return of cultural property between negotiation and restorative justice: time to bridge the river

Keywords looted cultural objects, return restitution and repatriation, alternative dispute resolution, restorative justice, cultural heritage law
Authors Arianna Visconti
Author's information

Arianna Visconti
Arianna Visconti is Associate Professor of Criminal Law and Law & Arts, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan, Italy. Corresponding author: Arianna Visconti at
  • Abstract

      There is a need for dialogue between two perspectives – the negotiated settlement of legal disputes and the use of restorative justice programmes in post-conflict situations – with respect to the recovery of cultural objects displaced in times of war and/or colonial occupation. Although the application of such perspectives led to the recovery of disputed cultural objects, this has mostly been achieved unwittingly. However, the resolution of restitution claims would benefit from a conscious exchange between experts and practitioners of the two approaches. We will summarise cultural property displacement in its practical complexities, briefly discussing problems related to both ‘historical’ depredations and the current trafficking in cultural objects, with a focus on the current trend towards increased use of criminal law. However, this is a tool that is mostly ineffective in providing a solution for the most heartfelt questions arising from breaking an object’s links to its cultural roots. After carrying out an overview of international conventions currently addressing these issues, discussing why these legal instruments oft cannot actually heal the wounds caused by depredations of cultural property, we will illustrate the need for an approach more focused on the ‘human’ meaning of questions of restitution of objects that are so much more than ‘things’.

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