On 5 October 2016, the hearing took place in the Amsterdam District Court, concerning Ukraine’s claim for the return of national cultural property. Is the Ukrainian government owner of the treasures and should they therefore go to Kiev? Or should the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam return them to the museums in the Crimea that loaned them.
On 14 December 2016, the Amsterdam District Court ruled in a judgment that the treasures from Crimea must be returned to Ukraine, confirming the position defended by Bergh Stoop & Sanders (Maarten Sanders, Gert-Jan van den Bergh and Martha Visser) on behalf of the State of Ukraine.
The court’s ruling sets a clear standard for the international application of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The court has clarified that the appeal for repatriation of national cultural heritage belongs to the sovereign state whose heritage is concerned. If there is any uncertainty about ownership or management rights to these cultural goods (for example, about the question of in which museum they should be exhibited), then that is an internal matter that must be debated in the country itself after the cultural goods have been returned to the state.
In the 1970 UNESCO Convention, states pledged to prevent the illegal export of each other’s cultural goods. On that basis, a system of export licences is used internationally. Although in the case of the Crimean treasures, the export was initially licensed, the court has now ruled that the export must be regarded as ‘unlawful’ (for the purposes of the convention), so that the Crimean treasures are still on Dutch soil unlawfully. This judgment is also unique. It is the first time that the Dutch court has awarded cultural goods to a State on the basis of (the implementation of) the 1970 UNESCO Convention.