October 21, 2008

Why looted artefacts should be returned

Posted at 12:36 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

Kwame Opoku comments on yesterday’s news, that after sixty years, if may become legally possible for Britain’s national museums to return some artefacts that are known to have been taken illegally.

Modern Ghana

By Kwame Opoku, Dr.
Feature Article | Mon, 20 Oct 2008

It looks as if Britain is finally coming to the conclusion that stolen/looted cultural objects should be returned to their rightful owners. According to a report in the Telegraph, new legislation is on the way to allow the British Museum and other national museums to return artworks that were stolen/looted by the Nazis. The legislation will be specifically limited to works stolen/looted during the Nazi era that are now in the possession of many British national galleries and museum. The position until now has been that even if one had all the necessary evidence that a particular piece of work hanging in the British institutions was stolen, confiscated by the Nazis or sold under intimidation to the evil men of Hitler, they could not return them to the owners. They could offer compensation to the owners.

We cannot rejoice now but should be encouraged by this first step. Until the matter has been fully debated in the British Parliament and all those Parliamentarians living in another world, not recognizing the end of the age of Imperialism, have had their say and we have an actual Act of Parliament, many things could happen. The introduction of a Bill in Parliament and the passing of legislation may take a long period but this period should be used by those in favour of the return of the Elgin Marbles and the Benin bronzes to intensify their efforts and strengthen their strategies. If the new legislation is not framed in general terms to allow the return of the Elgin Marbles and the Benin Bronzes, no minute should be wasted in putting these two issues on the agenda, preferably separately, bearing in mind the British tendency to deal with such matters one by one rather than taking a principled decision on the general issue.

It has taken the British Government some sixty years after the end of the Nazi regime to recognize that artworks looted by the Nazis should not be accorded any legality and that the British Museum and other British institutions are dishonouring all those who fought against the Nazis when they hang on their walls artworks stolen by the Nazis. It is very late and in most cases, the original owners have gone and are now represented by their inheritors. Unnecessary legal proceedings and suffering has been caused by the inability or unwillingness of successive British governments to recognize plain evil and wrong-doing. But as the saying goes, it is better late than never. We congratulate the British Parliament and wish them well in this endeavour which will restore some of their lost honour.

Kwame Opoku, 20 October, 2008.

Read the original Daily Telegraph article here.

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