29 June 2009
Stuart Eizenstat, leading the American delegation at the international conference on Holocaust-era assets in Prague, has called for the establishment of a US panel to rule on Nazi-looted art disputes to help claimants achieve fair settlements. "I am more and more convinced, particularly in the art area, that we in the US need some type of arbitration commission," Eizenstat, a former undersecretary for commerce and deputy treasury secretary, said in an interview with the news agency 'Bloomberg'. The panel would "provide some expert judgments on these cases which now go to court in endless litigation," he said.
Eizenstat said such a project would take time, with people asking: "Is it advisory, it is mandatory? Will it require congressional action or can it be done administratively?" However, initial discussions between the State Department and museums had been promising: "I was pleased to find that a number of the museums including the National Gallery in Washington and some of the lawyers representing the Association of Art Museum Directors seemed positive to having some kind of a panel."
The conference in Prague, attended by delegates from 49 countries, aims to review how far nations put into action a non-binding 1998 agreement known as the Washington principles. Under those principles, governments agreed to identify stolen art in museums’ collections, publicize the results and encourage pre-war owners and their heirs to make claims. They also promised to strive for a "just and fair" solution with theft victims and their heirs.
The Jewish Claims Conference said in a report that "no general claims resolution has been set up for dealing with Nazi art claims, and claims are mostly dealt with on an ad hoc basis that requires claimants ultimately to go through courts." The body was reporting to the Prague meeting on how far countries have made good on their Washington pledges. "Some museums have started to file suits against claimants to ‘quiet title,’ thereby invoking technical legal defenses in order to avoid restituting objects and compelling claimants to spend large sums in legal fees," the report said.
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