13 December 2002
The International Council of Museums (ICOM) welcomes the strong emphasis on discouraging illegal traffic in archaeological, artistic and ethnic objects, as made in a declaration signed by 18 museums in Europe and the United States.
ICOM, as it is widely known, strongly supports the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970) and the UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen and Illegally Exported Cultural Objects (1995).
ICOM realises, however, that objects acquired in earlier times must sometimes be viewed in the light of different sensitivities and values.
Museums have over the years safeguarded a rich variety of collections, and have made them available to the public in various ways.
Repatriation of objects is an issue that should be very carefully dealt with. Wise and thoughtful judgement is necessary. Unnecessarily strong judgements or declarations should in any case be avoided.
As is stated in the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums: "In response to requests for the return of cultural property to the country or people of origin, museums should be prepared to initiate dialogues with an open-minded attitude based on scientific and professional principles (in preference to action at a governmental or political level). In addition, the possibility of developing bilateral or multilateral partnerships with museums in countries that have lost a significant part of their cultural or natural heritage should be explored."
Museums all over the world are institutions in the service of society and its development, and share a common goal.
ICOM welcomes a thoughtful approach and a thorough debate, and it will certainly take the initiative in developing a balanced view on the sensitive issue of the repatriation of objects.