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Posted at: Nov 17, 2019, 8:36 AM; last updated: Nov 17, 2019, 8:36 AM (IST)

Where loot ends up

British Museum is world’s largest receiver of stolen property, says human rights lawyer
Where loot ends up
Many artefacts at the museum are subject of ongoing controversies. — Wikipedia

Roisin O’Connor

A leading human rights lawyer has accused the British Museum of becoming “the world’s largest receivers of stolen property”. 

Geoffrey Robertson QC, author of the new book Who Owns History? Elgin’s Loot and the Case for Returning Plundered Treasure, wrote a blistering criticism of US and European institutions housing treasures taken from “subjugated peoples” and called for their return, The Guardian reports. 

Robertson criticises the British Museum in particular for allowing an unofficial ”stolen goods tour” that “stops at the Elgin marbles, Hoa Kakananai’a, the Benin bronzes and other pilfered cultural propriety”. The artefacts he refers to are wanted by Greece, Easter Island and Nigeria, respectively, and are the subject of ongoing controversies. 

Robertson previously prepared a report on the reunification of the Elgin marbles to Greece with Amal Clooney and the late Professor Norman Palmer. 

“This is a time for humility — something the British, still yearning for the era when they ruled the world, i.e. for Brexit, do not do very well,” he writes in the book. ”Before it releases any of its share of other people’s cultural heritage, the British Museum could mount an exhibition: The Spoils of Empire.” 

He adds: “Politicians may make more or less sincere apologies for the crimes of their former empires, but the only way now available to redress them is to return the spoils of the rape of Egypt and China and the destruction of African and Asian and South American societies.” A British Museum spokeswoman confirmed that a “stolen goods tour” is run by an external guide. She said the Elgin marbles were acquired legally, “not as a result of conflict or violence”.

“Lord Elgin’s activities were thoroughly investigated by a parliamentary select committee in 1816 and found to be entirely legal,” she said. 

“The British Museum acknowledges the difficult histories of some of its collections, including the contested means by which some collections have been acquired such as through military action and subsequent looting.”

— The Independent

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