PAAIA Welcomes U.S. Court Decision to Protect Persian Artifacts

April 2, 2014, Chicago, IL – U.S. District Judge in Chicago last week ruled that the Persian Antiquities housed at Field Museum of Natural History and at the University of Chicago could not be used as compensation for judgment rendered against the government of Iran. 

In a lawsuit before the U.S. District Court of Northern of Illinois, plaintiffs were seeking to obtain custody over the historical artifacts as compensation for injuries sustained during a 1997 terrorist bombing in Jerusalem. The lawsuit served as the intersection of victims’ rights, international law, state ownership of property, cultural heritage, and diplomatic matters.  

In his ruling last Friday, Judge Robert Gettleman empathized with the victims but said that they had “not proven that the Iranian government owned the items on loan to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago,” and that the artifacts at the University of Chicago “were loaned for scholarship, not commercial intentions,” and hence could not be seized. 

As a matter of principle, PAAIA condemns all acts of violence that result in the loss of life and all acts of intimidation, coercion, and violence that are intended to instil fear in the population at large.  While we are deeply sympathetic to victims of terrorism and are fully supportive of their right to redress, we agree with the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Justice, and universities and museums that cultural property should not be used to satisfy commercial claims. In particular, the artifacts at the University of Chicago have a unique historical and cultural value and have never been involved in commercial activity.   

In 2012, PAAIA worked with the University of Chicago and Senator Robert Menendez to ensure that language in the Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Human Rights Act of 2012 (S.2101) would not adversely impact the pending litigation over Persian artifacts, making clearer its focus on certain financial assets of Iran. 

The case of Rubin v. Islamic Republic of Iran has been closely followed by other U.S. museums and educational institutions out of concern that a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs could bring collections throughout the country under threat of litigation.  According to media reports, the plaintiffs will likely appeal to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

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