LONDON — Not everyone has fallen under Amal Clooney’s spell.
The Greek government took less than 48 hours to reject months of Clooney’s work and a 150-page legal dossier, which urged a legal confrontation with Britain over the fate of a collection of 5th century BC sculptures known as the Elgin Marbles.
The leftist Syriza government, which was elected early this year, rejected Clooney’s legal advice without hesitation. “You can’t go to trial on every issue,” said Nikos Xydakis, the Greek culture minister, speaking to a local TV station.
Clooney and her partners at the Doughty Street Chambers in London had been asked to weigh in on the long-running diplomatic standoff by Greece’s previous government. They advised Greece to take the matter to an international tribunal at The Hague, and even the European Court of Human Rights if that failed.
“The British adhere to international law,” Clooney wrote in the report. “The Greek government has never taken advantage of this Achilles heel. You must take legal action now or you may lose the opportunity to do so due to future legal obstacles.”
It would have been the most high-profile case of Clooney’s career; the chance to end a 200-year dispute over some of the world’s most treasured antiquities. Greece maintains that the sculptures, which were taken and sold to the British Museum by Lord Elgin, should be reunited with the remaining sculptures from the Parthenon.
Last year, UNESCO offered to act as a mediator in the dispute but Britain refused to negotiate, prompting Greece to consider more radical solutions. The Greek government seemed keen to strike up a partnership with Clooney, delaying their consultation in order to accommodate her Venice wedding to actor George Clooney.
Some campaign groups expressed their shock at Greece’s “knee-jerk” rejection of Clooney’s advice but the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles told The Daily Beast that it was right to disregard what she had said.
“Mrs. Clooney said that it’s not 100 percent sure that they would win,” said Marlen Godwin, of the committee. “One wouldn’t want to risk any margin of error. [Losing in court] would have been a disaster.”
“We as a committee have always supported the diplomatic route.”
The Doughty Street legal team reportedly believed that there was a “75-80 percent chance” that an international court would rule in Greece’s favor. Their dossier pointed to the precedent set by the International Court of Justice in 1962, which forced Thailand to return sculptures taken from a Hindu temple in Cambodia.
Clooney and her colleagues, including renowned human-rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, also suggested that Greece was likely to win under the European Convention on Human Rights. A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media & Sport told the Independent newspaper, however: “The Parthenon sculptures were acquired legally in accordance with the law of the time and the British Museum is the rightful owner.”
The Greek culture minister, Xydakis, insisted that the risk was too great. “In international courts, the outcome is uncertain, things are not so easy,” he told Mega TV. “The road to reclaiming the return of the sculptures is diplomatic and political.”