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Press release:

NMVW: report is important step

Today, the Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science received a report commissioned by the Council for Culture concerning potential government policy on the restitution of colonial cultural heritage objects. “This is a big step forward”, says Stijn Schoonderwoerd, director of the National Museum of World Cultures (NMVW). “We hope these recommendations will become policy in the near future.”

Unconditional return

If the minister adopts the recommendations, it will enable the unconditional of cultural objects to former Dutch colonies where it can be shown that these source countries suffered involuntary loss of possession and that consequent to this, the cultural objects came to the Netherlands. “This will mean that the Netherlands is shown to be taking responsibility by acknowledging a prior injustice and making the return of the objects possible” says Schoonderwoerd: “We welcome this. And we think it right that the advisory committee is right to recommend the possibility of  honouring claims for objects of cultural, religious or national importance that were taken without clear consent.”

Injustice goes further than our own colonial past


“The NMVW supports the advisory committee’s conclusion that injustice does not stop with Dutch national colonial past”, says Schoonderwoerd. “As far as NMVW is concerned, the same principles apply to all cultural objects from the colonial period. So cultural objects taken without clear consent from non-Dutch colonies should also be unconditionally returned. This would apply to a proportion of our Benin collection, for example. The report also says that only a nation state can submit claims, but that is not always the solution for indigenous communities who wish to make request for the return of certain objects.” 


The report points out that source countries are not only concerned with the return of objects, but are interested in future training for museum professionals and academic collaboration. “We know this from our own experience”, says Schoonderwoerd. “So we need to take the next step together with the source countries.”  


NMVW policy framework
The recommendations in the report are largely in line with the position that  NMVW published in March 2019 (Return of Cultural Objects: Principles and Process) . In response to this, the for Minister for Education, Culture and Science set up the advisory committee, which published its advisory report on the 7 October. “We hope that a national policy will be introduced on the basis of the advisory report”, says Schoonderwoerd. “Then our principles will actually no longer be necessary to guide our work, we can work within a national policy context which will make it clear to both museums and other nations considering a claim where they stand.”


More provenance research
The advisory report underlines the importance of provenance research and advises the minister to establish a permanent advisory committee and a centre of expertise. “I agree,” says Schoonderwoerd, “and I think it’s quite right that the committee recommends giving museums financial support for provenance research. At NMVW we are keen to continue living up to our responsibility, and would like to step up our efforts over the coming years.”  

About the National Museum of World Cultures
The National Museum of World Cultures (Tropenmuseum, Museum Volkenkunde and the Africa Museum) and the Wereldmuseum work together on their mission to inspire global citizenship. The collections comprise 450,000 objects from all over the world, each of which tells a human story about universal themes like celebration, faith, mourning, conflict and decoration. Stories which show that, apart from our differences, we humans are all the same.


note for editors, not for publication

For more information and/or to request an interview, please contact Coromandel Brombacher or tel: +31 (0)6 5315 2835.



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