oa Comparative and International Law Journal of Southern Africa - Keeping cultural objects 'in the picture': traditional legal strategies

Volume 27, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 0010-4051



This article focuses on the loss of objects of artistic or other cultural significance. This loss may refer to theft, misappropriation, abuse of authority or fraud on the part of agents, borrowers, restorers or curators. For better or for worse, the legal distinction between stolen and illegally exported objects dominates the topic of the protection of cultural objects. The question of illegal export refers to theft of certain objects only. The dividing line between theft and illegal export becomes more tenuous when false permits are issued. Theft falls squarely within the paradigm of a property rule which prevents forced transfers, but allows voluntary alienation. While this article is not concerned with the legal, anthropological and psychological dimensions of restitution of national patrimony to the nation of origin, concentrating on traditional legal actions in respect of property stolen in the traditional sense, the shadows which the property rule casts in this field are exposed.

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