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6 Art & Cultural Heritage Law Newsletter 1 (Spring 2015)


The case of Rubin v. Islamic Republic of Iran reads like a blockbuster movie with an all-star cast. A terrorist organization blows up a crowded shopping mall in Jerusalem, killing and injuring Americans in the process. Some of those severely injured sue the nation of Iran for their part in supporting Hamas, who carried out the bombing. Iran never makes a court appearance, so the plaintiffs win a default judgment for hundreds of millions of dollars. However, in trying to get some money out of Iran, the plaintiffs try to attach property in the United States, which may or may not be owned by Iran. Among the items of attached property are Persian antiquities that are suspected of being stolen, or at least improperly exported, from Persia in the 1930s by an American archaeologist, who later sold his findings to the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois. The plaintiffs want this cultural property sold to the highest bidder to pay for their default judgment, but not everyone is happy with the idea. Not everyone believes that cultural property can be treated in this way - bought and sold like a regular commodity. Certainly, Iran, who finally entered the litigation, is not happy, but neither are the museums that currently hold the antiquities. What to do in this unhappy dilemma? The plaintiffs deserve the money they have been awarded to pay for their injuries. Terrorism must be stopped and its victims allowed recourse for their suffering. But not all would agree that the attachment of cultural property is a viable way to give terrorism victims relief. In the Rubin case, an important precedent is about to be set.