French Report on Stolen Art from Pacific Islands

A couple of weeks ago a French report was released and commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron calling for the return of thousands of artworks stolen by France in the colonial era.

The report also stated that African artworks in French museums that were taken without consent should be given back to the continent. Ms Paz Zarate, who is  a Chilean lawyer specializing in disputes over the repatriation of art, said the report would have a ripple effect in the Pacific, driving talk on the return of cultural artifacts. “Polynesia and all the other islands would be looking at the consequences of the Macron report and how this could be transposed or applied to the Pacific at a very important level,” she said.

Museums around the world would be looking at their internal policies around artifacts from other countries, Ms Zarate said.

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The report would also give courage and a legal basis to countries to challenge for the return of cultural items held overseas, she said. “That legal basis is increasing on the basis of legal precedence and as the law develops and also as the public concern on ownership and on cultural policy is changing.”

Earlier this month an agreement was reached in London between the British Museum and members of the Rapa Nui and Chile governments to continue talks on the repatriation of the moai, or statue, Hoa Hakananai’a, which was stolen by English sailors in 1869.

Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, is also negotiating the return of part of a collection of artifacts from Kon Tiki Museum in Norway.

Ms Zarate said Rapa Nui’s claims were being aided by a growing awareness of the importance art repatriation played in international diplomacy. “Countries are thinking about this from the foreign policy perspective, from the leadership perspective, in re-assessing how they are being the administrators of heritage that originally did not belong to them,” she said.

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