France to frame new law for restitution of looted artifacts

Law will establish long-term framework to return objects to countries of origin

Shweta Desai   | 28.10.2021
France to frame new law for restitution of looted artifacts


France will institute a new law for the restitution of looted artifacts from colonized countries, President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday. 

Macron hailed a “breakthrough” in cooperation and a “milestone” in the restitution of royal treasures looted from Benin at a ceremony organized for the return of 26 artworks stolen from the African country, at the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac Museum in Paris. 

“We want to ensure that we can send these back to their home countries in the right conditions,” he said at a ceremony attended by Benin’s Culture Minister Jean-Michel Abimbola. 

The 26 objects, including royal statues, the throne and seat of King Ghezo and doors from the palace of King Glele were on display at the Quai museum. They will now be housed in a new museum in Benin. 

He said his government will introduce a law to establish a long-term framework to send looted works to their countries of origin. The framework will involve a scientific process to trace the origin of the objects and send them to their home countries effectively. 

He emphasized that France will work with African countries to return the objects. “We cannot decide alone what can be returned, we will listen to your recommendations,” he said. 

A 2018 report commissioned by the Macron administration of academics Felwine Sarr and Benedicte Savoy estimated 90,000 African antiques and valuables are exhibited in French museums.

The unlawful seizure of cultural objects during colonization has been a subject of tension in bilateral relations of many African, Arab and Asian countries. 

Macron first announced the restitution of the cultural artifacts in 2017 during his visit to the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou.

The initial request of Benin to return the cultural heritage which was stolen in 1892 by Gen. Alfred Dodds from the Royal Behanzin palace of Abonney was rejected by France on the principle of “inalienability.” 

The move was made possible due to the unanimous adoption of a bill tabled by the Macron government in December 2020 to restore the ownership of the artifacts to African countries. 

Since then, France has returned the saber and the scabbard of El Hadj Omar Tall demanded by Senegal, Madagascar’s crown and is considering a request by the Ivory Coast to restore a highly symbolic “talking drum” music instrument used as a means of communication in the war against the colonizers.

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