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The “Quimbaya Treasure,” Judgment SU-649/17

  • Diego Mejía-Lemos (a1)
Extract

The Colombian Constitutional Court (Court) ordered the Colombian government to seek the restitution of a set of 122 golden objects of the Quimbaya people in a judgment issued on October 19, 2017 (Judgment). The Judgment addressed significant issues of international law relating to unilateral acts, treaty interpretation, cultural property (particularly that of indigenous peoples), and the settlement of disputes involving claims for restitution of cultural property through diplomacy and mediation.

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References
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1 Case T-3.402.625 (in Spanish).

2 Case 2006-0155, Administrative Circuit Court No. 23 (Bogotá Capital District) (Sept. 4, 2009).

3 High Administrative Court of Cundinamarca, First Chamber, Sub-Section A (Feb. 17, 2011).

4 Council of State, Contentious Administrative Chamber, First Section (July 7, 2011).

5 Council of State, Contentious Administrative Chamber, Second Section (Jan. 19, 2012).

6 203 (citing Article 38, Statute of the International Court of Justice, 39 AJIL Supp. 215 (1945)).

7 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, May 23, 1969, 1155 UNTS 332.

8 Case 325, Council of State, Contentious Administrative Chamber, First Section (Oct. 23, 1992).

9 E-mail of October 18, 2018 from the Academy of History of Quindío (on file with the author).

10 The Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History (ICANH) Director General made the Report available. E-mail of October 22, 2018 from the ICANH in-house legal counsel (on file with the author).

11 Report, at 3–4.

12 See, e.g., Jean-Paul Jacqué, Acte et Norme en Droit International Public, 227 Recueil des Cours 357 (1991); Robert Kolb, Peremptory International Law – Jus Cogens: A General Inventory (2015).

13 Verhoeven, Joe, Considérations sur Ce Qui Est Commun, 334 Recueil des Cours 9, 125 (2008).

14 GM Danilenko, Law-making in the International Community 24–25 (1993); Malcolm N. Shaw, International Law 90–91 (8th ed. 2017) (“[u]nilateral acts, while not sources of international law as understood in article 38(1) of the Statute of the ICJ, may constitute sources of obligation”).

15 The International Law Commission (ILC) adopted a set of “Guiding Principles applicable to unilateral declarations of States capable of creating legal obligations” in 2006. While the ILC did not adopt the Special Rapporteur's draft Principle 7, concerning coercion, error, fraud, or corruption of a state representative, the observance of jus cogens was included as a condition for validity of unilateral acts. Int'l L. Comm'n, Unilateral Acts of States, II(2) Y.B. Int'l L. Comm'n 159 n. 861 (2006) (draft Principle 7 applied VCLT Articles 48–53 by way of analogy). There is a scholarly debate on whether unilateral acts must comply with jus cogens. See, e.g., Weil, Prosper, Le Droit International en Quête de Son Identité, 237 Recueil des Cours 1, 282 (1992) (arguing that jus cogens does not concern unilateral acts or conducts of states, but only treaties); Kolb, supra note 12, at 62–63 (distinguishing between “material” and “legal” unilateral acts, and arguing that observance of jus cogens may condition the latter's validity).

16 Those rules would, most prominently, take the form of customary rules of the law of treaties. Nevertheless, not every VCLT rule reflects such customary rules, nor is every customary rule codified in the VCLT applicable to unilateral acts. Mark E. Villiger, Commentary on the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 385 (2009); Przemysław Saganek, Unilateral Acts of States in Public International Law 116–18 (2016).

17 Cotula, Lorenzo, Freezing the Balancing Act? Project Finance, Legal Tools to Manage Regulatory Risk, and Sustainable Development, in Global Project Finance, Human Rights and Sustainable Development 142, 152 (Leader, Sheldon & Ong, David eds., 2011); Bothe, Michael, Article 46 Convention of 1969, in The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties: A Commentary, Vol. 1, at 1090, 1097 (Corten, Olivier & Klein, Pierre eds., 2011).

18 Land and Maritime Boundary Between Cameroon and Nigeria (Cameroon v. Nigeria; Eq. Guinea intervening), Judgment, 2002 ICJ Rep. 303, paras. 265–66 (Oct. 10); ILC, supra note 15, at 163 (observing that Note GM-542one of the only two instances of state practice identified by the ILC as to competence to conclude unilateral acts, albeit set aside internally, was not revoked by the Colombian government internationally); Anthony Aust, Modern Treaty Law and Practice 78 (3d ed. 2013).

19 Karolina Kuprecht, Indigenous Peoples’ Cultural Property Claims: Repatriation and Beyond 85 (2013).

20 Craig Forrest, International Law and the Protection of Cultural Heritage 53 (2016).

21 Ian Sinclair, The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 220 (2d ed. 1984).

22 East Timor (Port. v. Austl.), Judgment, 1995 ICJ Rep. 90, para. 29 (June 30).

23 Forrest, supra note 20, at 53; Zuozhen Liu, The Case for Repatriating China's Cultural Objects 61 (2016) (arguing that a jus cogens peoples’ right to restitution of cultural property lacks any basis in international law).

24 The undue characterization as jus cogens of “human rights and humanitarian law” has been criticized as excessive. I Y.B. Int'l L. Comm'n 113, para. 70 (2001) (comments of Alain Pellet).

25 Shaw, supra note 14, at 94; ILC Special Rapporteur, Third Report on Jus Cogens, para. 44, UN Doc A/CN.4/714 (Feb. 12, 2018).

26 Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros Project, Judgment, 1997 ICJ Rep. 7, para. 140 (Sept. 25); Dispute Concerning Access to Information Under Article 9 of the OSPAR Convention, Final Award, 23 RIAA 59, para. 103 (July 2, 2003).

27 Arbitration Regarding the Iron Rhine (Belg. v. Neth.), Award, 27 RIAA 41, para. 49 (May 24, 2005); Eirik Bjorge, The Evolutionary Interpretation of Treaties 8 (2014).

28 Where applied, that intention was clearly established. The Mavrommatis Palestine Concessions (Greece v. Britain), 1924 PCIJ (ser. A) No. 2, at 7, 34. Markus Kotzur, The Temporal Dimension: Non-retroactivity and Its Discontents, in Research Handbook on the Law of Treaties 153, 172 (Christian J. Tams, Antonios Tzanakopoulos & Andreas Zimmermann eds., 2014) (discussing the existence of such an intention in Mavrommatis).

29 Yepes, Rodrigo Uprimny, Judicialization of Politics in Colombia: Cases, Merits And Risks, 4(6) Revista Internacional de Direitos Humanos 49, 59 (2007).

30 Dissenting Opinion, Judge Bernal-Pulido, para. vi (questioning the likelihood of implementing the Judgment on constitutional law grounds.).

31 Moreover, given its conduct in a similar case previously, supra note 18.

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  • ISSN: 0002-9300
  • EISSN: 2161-7953
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