March 1, 2005

Edinburgh University refuses to return Ethiopian artefacts

Posted at 2:55 pm in Similar cases

While Ethiopia appears to be having some success in the return of the Axum Obelisk from Italy, it appears that other requests they have made have had less promising results.

The Herald (Glasgow)

University refuses to return Ethiopian artefacts
March 01 2005
Campaigners fighting for the repatriation of scores of treasures looted by British soldiers from Ethiopia more than a century ago have been dealt a blow by academics in Scotland.
Edinburgh University, despite a direct plea from the government in Addis Ababa, has refused to hand over four manuscripts with likely links to the troops’ invasion.
The Association for the Return of the Magdala Ethiopian Treasures (Afromet), which has involved the Queen in its quest for plundered artefacts and documents, said it would continue to fight for the return of the documents “taken violently as war booty”.
The university court, its governing body, yesterday supported a unanimous decision by a special advisory panel set up to examine the possible repatriation of the manuscripts.
In its report, the panel concluded that Afromet, as an international secular organisation independent of the Ethiopian government and church, had no mandate to represent the Ethiopian people and was not the original owner of the documents in question.

It also said it was clear that items similar to those held by the university existed within Ethiopia and no evidence had been presented to suggest those in Edinburgh were “objects of major cultural, religious or scientific importance”.
Conservation of the documents was also of primary concern, said the experts, who argued that the university library had exercised good curatorial management over the manuscripts.
Melvyn Cornish, university secretary, said the refusal did not necessarily mean the end of the matter and there was a willingness to continue dialogue with the campaigners.
There was also agreement for several measures to facilitate access to the manuscripts by the Ethiopian people and scholars “through agreed surrogates”.
The university has had concerns that simply to hand them back would create a precedent that would cause problems for other institutions, such as the British Museum and British Library.
The Ethiopian church and government have been exerting diplomatic pressure on Britain to return the stolen items, cumulatively valued by Ethiopian campaigners at £1.6bn.

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