Conference: Return of Cultural Property to its Country of Origin.

Next week in Athens at the New Acropolis Museum, the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, in cooperation with UNESCO will sponsor a conference on “Return of Cultural Property to its Country of Origin”. Here is an excerpt of the press release by UNESCO:

The conference participants will reflect upon and exchange experiences on the issue of the return of cultural property, examining several successful return cases, including: the Axum Obelisk from Italy to Ethiopia, the return of the Stone Birds of Great Zimbabwe from Germany to Zimbabwe, the return of human remains to the Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal tribe of South Australia, the “Utimut” cooperation project for the return of cultural objects from Denmark to Greenland, the reunification of a Neo-Sumerian alabaster figure (cooperation project between the Louvre Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of New York) and the case of the ceremonial mask of the Kwakwaka’wakw people of Vancouver Island between the British Museum and Canada.

On the second day, four thematic workshops will debate:
• Ethical and Legal Aspects,
• Mediation and Cultural Diplomacy,
• Museums, Sites and Cultural Context
• International Cooperation and Research.

Discussions will also take place on ways to strengthen the action of the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation.

Established by UNESCO in 1978, the Intergovernmental Committee provides a framework for discussion and negotiation on the return or restitution of cultural property. The committee, composed of 22 elected member states, remains strictly advisory, establishing forums for debate and offering non-legally binding recommendations.

Proceedings will be published and made available for the 15th session of the Intergovernmental Committee, scheduled for June 2009. The return and restitution of cultural property will also be the theme of another meeting to be held in November this year in Seoul (Republic of Korea), where an extraordinary session of the Intergovernmental Committee will be held to mark its 30th anniversary.

* The New Acropolis Museum, 2-4 Makriyanni Str, 117 42, Athens Greece

A Program of the events is here, and an impressive cast of heritage thinkers and experts have been assembled, including at least two fellow bloggers, Lee Rosenbaum and David Gill who will hopefully share their thoughts when they return.

Questions or Comments? Email me at

3 thoughts on “Conference: Return of Cultural Property to its Country of Origin.”

  1. This conference, while seemingly altruistic in spirit, creates more heat than light in the continuing Cultural Property War. How many representatives from the alleged “illicit market” or for that matter the legitimate collector market, have been invited to this conference? It is quite easy to assemble a group of people, even internationally, that espouse a united view. A conference of this sort can generate a unified “party line”. But, does it generate a fair and reasonable discussion of the issue from all perspectives? Not a chance! UNESCO has become a shill for the retentionists and cultural property nationalists of the world and no longer has any credibility beyond the philosophical view that they cater to. It is a disgrace as a world organization since it entertains only the opinions and interests of a tiny fraction of the world’s population. The conference on this subject several years ago at Oxford at least provided an open forum, it is shameful that UNESCO cannot do the same. I, for one, do not believe that UNESCO has any credibility today beyond the tiny circle of self-serving elitists that control and feed off of it.

  2. I think you take the point too far as many of the discussions look at actual repatriations, with the input of both the source nation and the returning institution sharing their thoughts. That may perhaps be one-sided, but I don’t think it will be in every case. This event seems to be larger in scope than just the current trade.

    There are some very good people on the program, though you are right I don’t see anyone representing the dealer perspective, and I think more meaningful and effective reforms could perhaps have been suggested by bringing them into the discussion.

    It has the possibility to be a very interesting and lively discussion, I wish I was going. Also, there are some very good people here,an I certainly wouldn’t characterize them as you have.

  3. So it’s quite plain that you support the looting and degradation of cultural artifacts for the sole benefit of a select few. While the wider audiences that may be available for such works as a result of international exhibitions of such works as the Benin Bronzes or the Elgin Marbles may be laudable there is no justification for an endorsement of the vicious colonial practices that brought those artifacts into the hands of dealers and museum curators. The countries and peoples where these cultural treasures originated should be the ones to benefit from their exhibition and/or sale not the progeny of plunderers and pirates.

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