"To combat international trafficking in cultural property is to promote due respect for cultural property and for those who are its rightful depositeries."
Address by Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, 12 June 2007

 

I- Historic case studies of return and restitution under the aegis of the Intergovernmental Committee

The Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation has assisted in several successful cases of restitution:

  • In 1983, Italy returns over 12,000 pre-Columbian objects to Ecuador. The case was resolved after a seven-year litigation. The moral support expressed by the Committee was recognized by the Ecuadorian authorities as a significant factor in the success of their cause.
  • Within the framework of an exchange, and following a request submitted by Jordan in 1983 to the Intergovernmental Committee, the Cincinnati Art Museum (USA) and the Department of Antiquities of Amman (Jordan) decided, in 1986, to jointly exchange moulds of the respective parts of the sandstone panel of Tyche with the zodiac in their possession, in order to be able to present the work in its entirety. This case was resolved by mediation.
  • In 1987, the return of the 7,000 Bogazköy cuneiform tablets from the German Democratic Republic to Turkey. The case was resolved by direct return.
  • In 1988, the return of the Phra Narai lintel to Thailand from the United States. The case was resolved by mediation.
  • The Committee also supervised the return to the Museum of Corinth (Greece) of 271 objects held in the United States of America.

Another case is suspended (between Iran and Belgium about archaeological objects from the Necropolis of Khurvin).Three other cases are still pending (regarding the Parthenon marbles, involving Greece and United Kingdom,the issue of the sphinx of Bogazköy between Turkey and Germany, and the Makondé mask’s case, between Tanzania and Switzerland).

II- Recent examples of successful operations of cultural property restitutions

  • April 2008: Syria returns stolen antiquities to Iraq

Syria has returned to Iraq around 700 pieces of antiquities, including gold coins and jewellery, which were stolen in the aftermath of the US intervention.

  • April 2008: France returns more than 260 stolen archaeological items to Burkina Faso

France has returned to Burkina Faso 262 stolen archaeological items discovered at the end of 2007 by French customs officers in the northern French port of Rouen. These items, stolen by a French couple, include: 231 fragments of pottery, 8 complete potteries, 17 stone objects and 6 bronze objects dating back to between 1,000 BC and 1,300 BC.

  • April 2008: Cultural relics illicitly exported to Denmark returned to China

In adherence with the 1970 UNESCO Convention, the Chinese Government claimed the return of the 156 cultural relics in question through the local Danish court. The relics date back to between the Xia Dynasty (2,000 BC) and the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The restitution of these objects demonstrates the resolve of the Chinese Government to recover objects that were smuggled out of the country.

  • February 2008: Restitution from Greece of two statues to the Museum of Buthrote (Albania) <//strong>

Two marble statues representative Artemisia and Apollo were returned to the Museum of Buthrote where they had been stolen in the 1990s.

  • January 2008: Restitution of the bust of Marcus Aurelius from the United States to Algeria

The U.S. Homeland Security authorities agreed to the restitution of the marble bust of a Roman Emperor that was stolen, as well as eight other archaeological objects, from the Skikda Museum (Algeria) in 1996.

  • December 2007: U.S. Court Orders German Baroness to Return Painting Stolen from Jewish Collector and Art Dealer

The U.S. District Court in Rhode Island settled in favour of Concordia University, McGill University of Montreal and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in their case against the baroness von Morsey Pickard. The return of the "Girl from the Sabine Mountains", by Winterhalter, acquired by Morsey Pickard’s step-father in 1937 during the forced sale of the collection of the Jewish gallery owner Max Stern, is a significant decision in the research for the possessions of the Jews spoiled by the IIIth Reich.

  • October 2007: Restitution of hundred of antiques from Germany to Greece

94 objects (figurines, seals, tools and phials) from the Neolithic period that were stolen in 1985 from Larissa (Greece) were returned to Greece from Germany.

  • September 2007: Restitution by Yale University (USA) to Peru of archaeological artefacts from the Machu Picchu

After ten years of negotiation, an agreement made between the Peruvian State and the Department of Archaeology of Yale University allowed for the return of more than 350 objects in stone, metal and ceramic and thousands of artefacts.

  • August 2007: Returned to Peru 18 pre-Hispanic archaeological pieces recovered in Germany

Ceramics sculptures, objects made from organic material, and a funeral mask made of copper returned to Peru. The success of the repatriation is the result of the close collaboration and coordination between the National Institute of Culture and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through the Peruvian Consulate in Hamburg and the Sub-Secretariat of Cultural Policy in Foreign Countries. See more

  • August 2007: Agreement of restitution of 40 archaeological items from the Getty Museum (USA) to Italy

In a protocol signed between the Getty Museum Director and the Italian Minister of Cultural Property, the Getty undertook to return to Italy the Morgantina Venus and 39 other valuable archaeological items (vases, amphoras, fragments of fresco etc.) of illicit origin.

  • June 2007: Restitution of an antique sculpture from Switzerland to Greece

A marble trunk from Gortyne stolen in Crete in 1991, which was featured on the INTERPOL’s Database of Stolen Works of Art, was returned to Greece from Switzerland.

  • June 2007: Agreement by Italy to return hundred of items to Pakistan

Italy agreed to return 96 antiques to Pakistan. The vases, coins, and plates etc., dating from 3.300 to 1.800 B.C., had been obtained through illicit trafficking.

  • June 2007: Restitution of two statues from the USA to Kenya

Two wooden statues, known as vigango, which were on display at the State of Illinois Museum and at the University of Hampton Museum, were returned to the Kenyan village where they were stolen in 1985.

  • April 2007: Restitution of the Venus de Cyrène from Italy to Libya

Italy agreed to return a white marble statue in its possession for near century to Libya, who was requested it since 1989.

  • March 2007: Return of 1,400 Afghan artefacts preserved in Switzerland

Some 1,400 Afghan ethnographic and archaeological objects, preserved since 1999 at the Afghanistan Museum-in-Exile (Bubendorf, Switzerland) under the aegis of UNESCO, were repatriated to the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul on 16 March 2007. See the Press Release and the Photo Gallery.

  • December 2006: The Getty Museum of Los Angeles agrees to return art items to Greece.

The Getty agreed to return a gold wreath and a marble statue of a kore (a standing young woman). In August 2006, following an amicable agreement, the Getty also returned a sixth century BC Thasian relief and a fourth century BC Boeotian stele to Greece. In response to accusations against its acquisition policy, the Getty announced a stricter policy with guidelines for bringing the Institution’s procedures into line with the principles of the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

  • September 2006: The Boston Museum of Fine Arts agrees to return art items to Italy

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts reached an amicable agreement with Italy over the return of 13 items, which included a marble statue of the Empress Sabina, dating from 136 AD, and some ancient vases.

  • September 2006: Return of a Parthenon fragment from Germany to Greece

Through an amicable consensus, the University of Heidelberg (Germany) returned a small piece of marble portraying a man’s foot to the Greek Ministry of Culture. This is the first fragment from the Parthenon sculptures to return to Greece since European collectors removed large sections from the building some 200 years ago.

  • February 2006: Agreement for restitution of the Euphronios crater from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (USA) to Italy

Reversing its long-standing position, the Met decided to return a 2,500-year-old Greek vase that was considered to be one of the world’s finest. This antique crater, made by the Greek painter Euphronios, was returned to Italy in January 2008.