Legal constraints prevent UNESCO backing Iran in Achaemenid bas-relief case: official

September 4, 2007

TEHRAN -- An official has said that legal constraints have prevented UNESCO from assisting Iran in its efforts to forestall the sale of the Achaemenid soldier bas-relief at Christie’s auction house in London.

“The rules of international treaties and conventions come into force after countries have entered into them,” noted Susan Cheraghi, a member of the legal department of the Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization (CHTHO), in an interview released by CHN on Monday.
According to Cheraghi, both Iran and England have joined the UNESCO convention set up in 1970 prohibiting the circulation of illicit antiquities and enforcing return of such properties, but England became a member of the agreement in 1982, while the Achaemenid soldier bas-relief had been stolen years before this date.
“The rules of international treaties and conventions are not ex post facto i.e. the members are only responsible for activities that occur after their membership and have no responsibility for incidents that took place earlier,” she explained.
The valuable artifact depicting the head of an Achaemenid soldier was smuggled from Iran about 70 years ago and was purchased for the first time in 1971 at Sotheby’s, another auction house in London. It had been severed from the eastern staircase of the Apadana Palace, which was built by Xerxes I in Persepolis near the modern-day city of Shiraz in southern Iran’s Fars Province.
The bas-relief had previously been withdrawn from Christie’s April 2005 sale after Iran filed a lawsuit against the auction house in a London court claiming ownership of the valuable relic.
The court rejected Iran’s claim last February, arguing that the artifact had previously been sold in an auction without any objection from Iranian officials.
Consequently, Christie’s is scheduled to resume the auction of the stolen bas-relief along with a collection of other Iranian historic artifacts during its September and October sales.
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Now Iran faces a deadlock over the matter. In the meantime, the CHTHO is using the mass media to try to convince the world to put pressure on Christie’s to halt the auction, Cheraghi announced.
However, Cheragi believes, “Legal issues differ from political and diplomatic affairs. If a London court makes a certain ruling, even the queen OF England is powerless to change it!”
A proposal that Iran should purchase the relic in the auction is a solution which has recently been discussed by various individuals and institutes.
“The CHTHO is able to provide the funds for purchasing the bas-relief, but the organization’s policy is not to participate in the sale, as the director of the CHTHO believes that such action would demonstrate approval of the court ruling against Iran,” Cheraghi explained