Practice Relating to Rule 41. Export and Return of Cultural Property in Occupied Territory
Section B. Return of cultural property exported or taken from occupied territory
The Russian Federation’s Law on Removed Cultural Property (1997) declares federal property of the Russian Federation:
all cultural values located in the territory of the Russian Federation that were brought [as a result of the Second World War] into the USSR by way of exercise of its right to compensatory restitution … pursuant to orders of the Soviet Army Military Command, the Soviet Military Administration in Germany or instructions of other competent bodies in the USSR.
By the term “cultural values” is meant “any property of a religious or secular nature which has historic, artistic, scientific or any other cultural importance”, either owned by the State or privately.
However, the following types of properties may be claimed under the law: a) the cultural values plundered by Germany or its allies that were the national property of the former Soviet republics; b) the property of religious organizations or private charities which, being used exclusively for religious or charitable aims, did not serve the interest of militarism and/or Fascism; c) the cultural values previously owned by victims of Nazi/Fascist persecutions; d) all other removed cultural values located in Russia and originating from territories of States, other than the former Soviet republics, that were occupied during the war by Germany or its allies; and e) family relics.
In its decision in 1999 concerning verification of the constitutionality of the Law on Removed Cultural Property, the Russian Federation’s Constitutional Court ruled that cultural property legally transferred from the territory of former enemy States had become the property of the Russian Federation. The Court upheld the constitutionality of the Law insofar as it dealt with “the rights of Russia to cultural property imported into Russia from former enemy states [Germany and its allies] by way of compensatory restitution”. In the Court’s opinion:
The obligation of former enemy states to compensate their victims in the form of common restitution and compensatory restitution is based on the well-established principle of international law recognised well before World War II, concerning international legal responsibility of an aggressor state.
In March 2001, the Russian Federation and Belgium reached an agreement on the return to Belgium of the military archives stolen by the Nazis during the Second World War and then taken to Moscow by Soviet forces. The Russian authorities accepted to return the archives to Belgium, provided that they be compensated for the cost of having maintained them.