The return and restitution of cultural artifacts to their rightful country is an important, sensitive, and widely discussed issue. Cultural restitution refers to “the process by which a moveable object of historic or cultural significance is returned to its country of origin” (Returning Heritage). The first international agreement to shed light upon this issue was during the 1970 UNESCO Convention, raising concerns about the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (“1970 Convention”). This convention took the necessary measures to prevent the illegal trafficking of cultural property and made sure that any cultural heritage stolen from a museum, public, or religious monument was to be seized and returned to its rightful place. This conference raised awareness of the importance of return and restitution, resulting in many artifacts of cultural significance being returned to their homes (“1970 Convention”).
Cultural property and heritage play a critical role in protecting a community’s identity. It is extremely important as it “gives us an irrefutable connection to the past” (US Embassy in the Philippines), allowing nations to hold on to their own beliefs, values, and traditions, making every culture unique. Cultural repatriation is vital if this tie to a culture´s history is to be preserved.
Great Britain, along with many other countries, is responsible for withholding many cultural artifacts that have not yet been returned. These artifacts were seized during its colonial times, most of them seen in British museums, obtained violently as “trophies”, or auctioned off to support the military; this was brushed off as a simple “right of occupation” (Returning Heritage). However, in modern times, no museum should accept any artifact acquired in this way. In terms of progression, in 2021, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands claimed to have plans for new legal guidelines for the return and restitution of such cultural heritage, to ensure they are returned to their country of origin. Many of the United Kingdom´s institutions have started to follow suit. Britain´s national collections have still resisted all requests to give in (Returning Heritage).
The reason as to why the return and restitution of cultural heritage is important is of moral value. These artifacts have been stolen from their rightful country and should be returned as a way to “right a wrong”, which, in turn, needs “an admission of guilt and capitulation” (German). This seems to be the answer as to why the topic of returning cultural property is so sensitive: nations and institutions often refuse to admit that they are at fault, resulting in a lack of progression.
"About Cultural Restitution." Returning Heritage, www.returningheritage.com/about-cultural-restitution#:~:text=A%20museum%20will%20not%20consider,preservation%20place%20it%20at%20risk. Accessed 2 Oct. 2023.
"About 1970 Convention." UNESCO, en.unesco.org/fighttrafficking/1970. Accessed 5 Oct. 2023.
"CULTURAL HERITAGE PRESERVATION." U.S. Embassy in the Philippines, 9 june 2021, ph.usembassy.gov/cultural-heritage-preservation/#:~:text=Cultural%20heritage%20is%20central%20to,unity%2C%20belonging%20and%20national%20pride. Accessed 5 Oct. 2023.
German, Senta, Dr. "Repatriating artworks." Khan Academy, www.khanacademy.org/humanities/special-topics-art-history/arches-at-risk-cultural-heritage-education-series/whose-art/a/repatriati
Sabah, Daily. Cast Brass Plaques Taken from the Benin City, Dating Back to the 16th-17th Centuries. 24 June 2019. 24 June 2019, www.dailysabah.com/history/2019/06/24/british-museum-hedges-on-restitution-of-african-artifacts. Accessed 9 Nov. 2023.