5 March 2002
ICOM welcomes the French government's decision to recognise Nigeria's ownership of three Nok and Sokoto artefacts.
The objects in question were acquired by France in 1999 for the planned Musée du Quai Branly and belong to the categories of archaeological objects identified on the ICOM Red List as being amongst the types of cultural goods most affected by thefts and looting. They are protected by national legislation and banned from export: on no account must they be purchased or offered for sale.
ICOM also applauds Nigeria's generous decision to deposit the artefacts concerned with the Musée du Quai Branly, to be exhibited with the museum's permanent collection, for the exceptionally long period of 25 years (renewable), in exchange for France's recognition of its ownership. ICOM recommends that visitors should be clearly informed of the precise status of these objects and the way in which they were discovered.
ICOM would like to take this opportunity to issue a reminder that the looting of archaeological items in Africa causes irreparable damage, destroying vital evidence of the history of the continent and of mankind as a whole. Museums must therefore take a lead in combating the illicit trade in cultural goods, by adopting scrupulous acquisition policy in line with the ICOM Code of Professional Ethics for museum professionals.
STATUETTE RETURNED TO BURKINA FASO
ICOM was also delighted to hear that a stone statuette, formerly in a private collection in Germany, was returned to Burkina Faso on 16 December 2001. The statuette, which was stolen in 1991, was described in ICOM's 1994 publication One Hundred Missing Objects. Looting in Africa. Statuettes of this type also figure on the ICOM Red List under the heading, "Stone statues from Northern Burkina Faso and neighbouring regions" .
However, ICOM regrets that neither the community to which the statuette originally belonged nor the state of Burkina Faso has been recognised as its rightful owner.
These restitutions are very encouraging; but many of the other objects on the Red List are still circulating on the international art market, and Africa is not the only continent to suffer from the illicit trade in artworks. Whether it takes the form of thefts from churches (in France and Italy), dismantling of temples and monuments (in Asia) or unauthorised excavations of tombs (in Latin America), looting in cultural goods is rife everywhere.
It is therefore imperative that the campaign against illicit trafficking in art works mounted by ICOM and its partners reaches all sectors of the public, and that governments ratify international legal instruments such as the UNESCO Convention of 1970 and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention, to put an end to this illicit trade and safeguard our fragile collective heritage.
Valérie Jullien Tel. +33 (0)1 47.34.05.00 /22.214.171.124.36 Fax: + 33(0) 1.43.06.78.62