The British Museum's legal standing may be solid. International law hasn't kept pace with shifting global views over whether antiquities should be returned to their places of origin - often less-developed countries - or kept in big museums with resources for care and display.Lucille A. Roussin, who has a doctorate in art history and archaeology as well as a law degree and teaches at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, said there's no dispute when Chinese officials say the bronze rat and rabbit heads that were auctioned by Christie's last week in Paris disappeared in the ransacking of the emperor's Garden of Perfect Brightness during the Second Opium War.
"Did they have a legal claim? No. Did they have a moral claim? Yes," Roussin said. The items in question "were certainly looted. But they were looted at a time when there was no international law on this kind of looted object."