JUSTICE - No. 68

35 Summer 2022 n Twenty-six works from the royal treasury of Abomey to the Republic of Benin, kept by the Musée du Quai Branly Museum, following their donation to public collections by General Alfred Dodds (1842-1922); n A saber with its scabbard to the Republic of Senegal, said to be of El Hadj Omar Tall and kept by the Army Museum, following their donation to this museum by General Louis Archinard (1850-1932). In the Chagall restitution case, the three conditions provided by the State Council (Conseil d’Etat) were met: (i) a lack of disproportionate effect on public property, (ii) no threat to the continuity of the public services concerned, and (iii) public interest, namely the restitution to the rightful owners of artworks looted by the Nazis. I. What Is the Status of Restitutions in France? The New Law demonstrates a global awareness to speed up the restitution of looted assets. We see a recent acceleration with (A) a legislative framework favorable to restitutions; (B) governmental initiatives with the creation of dedicated administrative commissions; and (C) decisions rendered by French courts tending to grant restitution. A. A Legislative Framework Favorable to Restitutions Facing the unimaginable number of spoliations committed by the Nazis, seventeen Allied nations signed a declaration in London on January 5, 1943, which formed the basis of the organization of restitutions.9 This declaration led to the annulment of all the actions of the so-called Vichy government in France during the Second World War. The annulment of spoliations was specifically consecrated in Ordinance no. 45-770 of April 21, 1945 (hereinafter: “Ordinance”).10 Article 1 of this Ordinance provides that when a person has been deprived of his property through any measure, by either the enemy or by the Vichy regime, derogating from the ordinary law, they or their successors are entitled to have this measure declared null and void. This nullity will apply even when the person ostensibly agreed to the transaction. The fact that the victim participated in a transaction should not be deemed to be equivalent to consent. Pursuant to Article 4 of the Ordinance, the purchaser or the subsequent purchasers are in bad faith, and all sales and subsequent sales of a looted asset are similarly deemed to be null and void. These Articles allow a judge to annul an act of disposal (as a sale) which is a spoliation, at the request of the rightful owner. Consequently, should a judge annul the initial act of dispossession of a looted asset, this entails the annulment of all subsequent transactions, even if the current possessor is of good faith. This retroactively abolishes the property of the current possessor (i.e., at the date of the judge’s decision). This also means that a looted artwork which became part of the public collection, for example, through a donation, is not considered as having legally entered the public collection, as the donation itself is considered null and void. It is as if the donation never took place. B. Governmental Initiatives The French government has shown a genuine desire to help despoiled families and a strong commitment to contribute efficiently to the restitution of looted art. One can note the implementation of the following: n The Commission for the Indemnification of Victims of Spoliation (“CIVS”) instituted as a result of antisemitic legislation in force during the Occupation, created by decree on December 10, 1999. The CIVS is responsible for responding to claims for compensation for any type of spoliation that occurred in France during the Occupation. It can be seized by the despoiled families and was empowered by Decree No. 2018-829, October 1, 2018, to conduct self-referrals. Its powers have also been extended to cultural property that is part of public collections, and to propose recommendations of restitutions to the Prime Minister. n The Mission for Research and Restitution of Cultural Property looted between 1933 and 1945, created in 2019. The aim of the Mission is to: n Coordinate public policy aimed at identifying and restituting such property, in particular that which was looted as a result of antisemitic measures; n Carry out research to identify looted cultural property held by French public institutions; n Investigate cases of spoliation of cultural property by ensuring, in collaboration with the CIVS, that the owners of this property and their heirs are identified; n Ensure that the public and professionals are aware 9. Jean Mattéoli, Report to the French Prime Minister of the Mission d’étude sur la spoliation des Juifs de France, 1997, p. 21. 10. Ordinance no. 45-770 of April 21, 1945, on the nullity of acts of spoliation committed by the enemy or under its influence.