UNESCO welcomes the signing of a joint declaration today, 1 July, in Berlin, between the Governments of Germany and Nigeria for the return of Benin bronzes to Nigeria. Looted in 1897 from the royal palace of the Oba by British colonial troops, the bronzes had since been largely acquired by several German museums. The declaration was signed on the German side by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Minister of State for Culture and Media Claudia Roth, and on the Nigerian side by Minister of Culture Lai Mohammed and Minister of State to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Zubairu Dada.
The declaration goes beyond a mere restitution and provides for ambitious cultural cooperation. Under the terms of the declaration, Germany is expected to participate in archaeological exploration work, provide training for Nigerian museum staff, help build a new museum in Benin and return looted Benin Bronzes from German museum collections, while promoting international travelling and joint exhibitions.
“UNESCO welcomes this historic agreement as an example of successful international cooperation, allowing the African continent to reclaim its heritage,” said Ernesto Ottone R., UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture. “This declaration is all the more important as it paves the way for a broader dynamic of cultural cooperation which we hope will inspire other States and lead to similar cooperation projects”.
Germany and Nigeria ratified the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property that encourages the conclusion of bilateral agreements regarding restitution of cultural property. This declaration is in the spirit of the 1970 UNESCO Convention and illustrates a will for international cooperation between the States. The Preamble to the 1970 Convention states that “museums, libraries and archives should ensure that their collections are built up in accordance with universally recognized moral principles”.