27 Nov 2018

French report on stolen art a landmark moment for Pacific - lawyer

5:45 pm on 27 November 2018

A new report calling for the return of thousands of artworks stolen by France in the colonial era is a landmark moment for the Pacific.

That's according to Paz Zarate, a Chilean lawyer specialising in disputes over the repatriation of art.

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The report, released on Friday, was commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron.

It said African artworks in French museums that were taken without consent should be given back to the continent.

Ms Zarate said the report would have a ripple effect in the Pacific, driving talk on the return of cultural artefacts.

"Polynesia and all the other islands would be looking at the consequences of the Macron report and how this could be transposed or applied to the Pacific at a very important level," she said.

Museums around the world would be looking at their internal policies around artefacts from other countries, Ms Zarate said.

The report would also give courage and a legal basis to countries to challenge for the return of cultural items held overseas, she said.

"That legal basis is increasing on the basis of legal precedence and as the law develops and also as the public concern on ownership and on cultural policy is changing."

Last week, an agreement was reached in London between the British Museum and members of the Rapa Nui and Chile governments to continue talks on the repatriation of the moai, or statue, Hoa Hakananai'a, which was stolen by English sailors in 1869.

Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, is also negotiating the return of part of a collection of artefacts from Kon Tiki Museum in Norway.

Ms Zarate said Rapa Nui's claims were being aided by a growing awareness of the importance art repatriation played in international diplomacy.

"[Countries are] thinking about this from the foreign policy perspective, from the leadership perspective, in reassessing how they are being the administrators of heritage that originally did not belong to them," she said.

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