Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 461–474 | Cite as

Historic Injustices and the Moral Case for Cultural Repatriation

  • Karin Edvardsson Björnberg


It is commonly argued that cultural objects ought to be returned to their place of origin in order to remedy injustices committed in the past. In this paper, it is shown that significant challenges attach to this way of arguing. Although there is considerable intuitive appeal in the idea that if somebody wrongs another person then she ought to compensate for that injustice, the principle is difficult (albeit not impossible) to apply to wrongdoings committed many decades or centuries ago. It is not clear that historic injustices can meaningfully be corrected, or compensated for, and there are several arguments why, even in cases where there is a prima facie moral case for compensation, repatriation might not be a legitimate means of remedy. In order to bring analytical clarity to the issue, this paper discusses the various steps of the argument that must be addressed in order to ground a valid repatriation claim based on historic injustices.


Cultural repatriation Historic injustice Harm Transfers of victimization Posthumous interests 



I am grateful for the comments of colleagues at KTH Royal Institute of Technology and those of the editors and reviewers of Ethical Theory and Moral Practice. I would like to express special thanks to Prof. Luc Bovens, whose comments and suggestions have been most helpful in improving the manuscript. All remaining errors (if any) are my own.

Author Statement

This work has not been published before and is not under consideration for publication anywhere else.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of PhilosophyKTH Royal Institute of TechnologyStockholmSweden

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