Every country has a different policy in regard to its antiquities and whether they should be returned to the country from which they originated. For example, the government of the Netherlands suggests that looted art should be returned to former colonies. Australia has no laws directly governing repatriation, but there is a government program relating to the return of Aboriginal remains and artifacts. This program “supports the repatriation of ancestral remains and secret sacred objects to their communities of origin to help promote healing and reconciliation” and assists community representatives in working towards the repatriation of remains in various ways. Museums have also considered returning various artifacts from Africa. Countries such as Greece, Israel, India, Morocco, Italy, and Egypt have all sought to repatriate various objects that were being displayed in various museums. Each country’s policy is different:
- Greece requires the return of stolen heritage artifacts. Greece has made demands to various museums requesting the return of the cultural artworks believed to have been illicitly removed. The cultural minister of Greece stated in 2006 that “whatever is Greek, wherever in the world, we want back.” Since then, Greece has made demands and reclaimed many artworks and antiquities.
- Israel enacted the Antiquities Law of the State of Israel in 1978. This law lays out the rights and obligations regarding the unearthing and ownership of artifacts and antiquities. Breaking this law could lead to time in prison.
- India established the Archaeological Survey of India in order to help protect the cultural heritage of India. The India Proud Project also aids in reclaiming Indian heritage.
- Egypt has recovered many artifacts in recent years from abroad. The Egyptian government has stated that Egyptian antiquities belong in Egypt and should be returned, regardless of whether they were purchased legally. In 2019, Egypt “asked Interpol to help track down a 3,000 sculpture of the famed boy Pharaoh Tutankhamun after it was sold in Christie’s in London for almost £5 million to an anonymous buyer, despite Egypt warning it was probably stolen in the 1970s.”
For countries such as Egypt, where antiquity sales are considered to be illegal, INTERPOL may become involved because such sales are often transnational, thus requiring international cooperation. Criminal allegations of antiquity sales and theft may become the grounds for a Red Notice. In the next post, we’ll discuss INTERPOL’s role in reclaiming antiquities.
As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.
*Thanks for today’s post to contributing author Fabiola Meo, J.D. Candidate, 2022.