Today.Az » Politics » Baku initiative group addresses petition to French President
27 February 2024 [18:28] - Today.Az

By Azernews

Abbas Ganbay

The Baku initiative group addressed a petition to the President of France. The petition demands to return more than 90 thousand material and cultural works stolen by France from Africa to their countries of origin, Azernews reports, citing BIG.

The statement reads:

"We, the undersigned civil society organizations, call on French President Emmanuel Macron to keep his promise to return African artifacts to their country of origin.

In November 2017, Macron, in the presence of 800 students in the West African country of Burkina Faso, pledged to return works looted in Africa during the colonial period.

"African heritage must be exhibited in Africa," Macron said, adding, "I cannot accept that a large part of the cultural heritage of several African countries remains in France." Within five years, the conditions for the temporary or final restitution of African heritage in Africa will be met," he pledged.

Seven years passed already.

It seems that the restitution process, which requires a legislative basis, remains very complex, so that only a few works have been returned to their African homes since then. Still 90,000 objects belonging to Africa are held by French public museums.

Sub-Saharan Africa have reaffirmed their interest in repatriating portions of these collections several times. However, the “restitution requests” claimed by the objects’ legitimate owners in African countries have been denied.

Legal difficulties in France’s national heritage prohibits the transfer of any property out of France’s public domain, including the Sub-Saharan objects in its public museum collections and French public museums’ ability to transfer art objects out of their collections is strongly limited by a national legislation.

Up to date, no profound attempt made to amend the existing law, as the French government does not show willingness to repatriate the cultural property it looted, falsified, made its ownership during its colonial period. But it is France’s international duty to promote African culture as a human right.

Culture is a human right. When cultural heritage is at risk then everything is at risk. Heritage is one nation’s existence – historical past, present and future. Therefore, culture should not be a target of any crime. Systematically looting of cultural treasures, France apparently violated the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing and ?llicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

Today, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) protects over 1,120 sites as World Heritage to ensure their protection and conservation by the international community.

Does the designation of UNESCO's "famous" label transform every assigned property into a universal entity, or do World Heritage Sites predominantly remain under the ownership of the communities where they are geographically situated? If universality implies concepts transcending borders, can it authentically encompass cultural heritage? Culture not only impacts individuals in diverse ways but also its significance fluctuates depending on the country, era, or social environment in which it is situated.

With these actions, France also violates the UNESCO’s Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.

Report prepared by Bénédicte Savoy and Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr on the Restitution of African Cultural Heritage describes the role that museums have played in thwarting the restitution of objects captured during colonization. The report was delivered to President Emmanuel Macron in late 2018 which states that 85% to 90% of Africa’s heritage still lies outside the continent. Report recommended that African treasures taken without permission be returned to their countries of origin.

To date, no fewer than 90,000 objects belonging to Africa are still held by French public museums, according to a study by French daily Le Monde. Some facts outlined below:

Fact 1. Bénédicte Savoy and Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr’s report outlines "every piece from Senegal is in France".

Fact 2. Their official report states that most of the Africa collection in Paris' Quai Branly museum - approximately 46,000 pieces - was acquired with some degree of duress.

Fact 3. The Dapper Foundation in Paris, France owns the Bangwa Queen sculpture which belongs to Cameroon.

Fact 4. During the French colonisation, the Kanak artistic heritage was considered non-existent or looted. Kanak heritage and historical pieces of Kanak sculpture should be returned permanently to its original territory. There is also an implicit claim for restitution of cultural heritage behind this program, but with the novel twist of approaching the issue on a loan’s basis restricts to formalize restitution due to strict French repatriation law.

Fact 5. The African state with the highest number of art pieces in France is Chad, another former colony.

Fact 6. French colonialists looted books belonging to Tall El Hadj Omar Tall should be returned back to Senegal.

Fact 7. The Djidji Ayokwe, an emblematic drum of a local tribe, has long been requested by Ivory Coast and is currently being restored before its return to the town of Abidjan.

Fact 8. The crown of Ranavalona III, the last queen of Madagascar, was returned to Antananarivo in November 2020, but without the law necessary to formalize its restitution and therefore without any official legal framework.

Fact 9. Mali, Chad, and Ethiopia are still trying to claim several thousand works which are mostly on display at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris.

Fact 10. Paris’ Quai Branly Museum is naturally the most concerned, because of its 70,000 works on display, two-thirds were acquired between 1885 and 1960, and are therefore potentially part of a theft of heritage.

Seven years after his promise, Emmanuel Macron appears to be far from the goal he set for himself, namely, the return of African property to their continent of origin.

We call upon France return the artifacts looted during its colonial era, amend its strict law that impede restitution and pay a bill as an illegitimate taker to the objects’ legitimate owners, according to the requirements of the international law."

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