Leading human rights lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson QC, has accused the trustees of the British Museum of being the “world’s largest receivers of stolen property” and added that the “great majority of their loot is not even on public display.”
Robertson is also an academic, author and broadcaster who holds dual Australian and British citizenship, and in his new book ‘Who Owns History? Elgin’s Loot and the Case for Returning Plundered Treasure, he stresses the Museum is telling “a string of carefully-constructed lies and half-truths” regarding how the Parthenon Sculptures “were ‘saved’ or ‘salvaged’ or ‘rescued’ by Lord Elgin, who came into possession of them lawfully.”
In an opinion piece published by The Australian, Robertson also stated: “No less than 90 percent of African heritage, for example, resides in European museums, while the British Museum refuses to return to Greece one half of the Parthenon Marbles – the world’s greatest extant treasure – and meanly clings to objects of iconic significance to our own indigenous people. It’s time for their return: no longer can once-great powers get away with mealy-mouthed words of apology and regret colonial abuses. They must surrender their loot.”
The lawyer also added: “Lord Elgin never offered to pay for the marbles because he knew the Ottoman occupiers of Greece would never allow him to strip the Parthenon. Instead, he lavishly bribed local officials to turn a blind eye while his workmen ripped the statues off its walls and then abused his position as British ambassador to have them transported to London aboard British navy ships. They are now exhibited around the walls of a gallery that commemorates Joseph Duveen, an art fraudster. They would most be appreciated if reunited with the other half of the marbles in the New Acropolis Museum in Athens, built especially to display them and overlooked by the Parthenon itself.”
In his book, Robertson elaborates on how he finds it astonishing that the British Museum allows a “stolen goods tour,” with a British Museum spokeswoman confirming that the tour is run by an external guide and insisted the Parthenon Sculptures were acquired legally, with the approval of the Ottoman authorities of the day. “They were not acquired as a result of conflict or violence. Lord Elgin’s activities were thoroughly investigated by a parliamentary select committee in 1816 and found to be entirely legal,” she said.
Geoffrey Robertson AO QC is the author of Who Owns History? Elgin’s Loot and the Case for Returning Plundered Treasure, which is out today, Tuesday, 5th of November, 2019.