The Netherlands to Return Colonial Looted Art to Former Dutch Colonies

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Petir Garda Bhwana

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - "It begins with the recognition that injustice has been done,” said Dutch Minister for Education, Culture and Sciences Ingrid van Engelshoven when she officially received a report on colonial collections in The Hague on Wednesday. This “very important report” shows that “the past still has an impact on us until today,” Van Engelshoven said.

    The report, written by the government advisory board Council for Culture at the minister’s request, underlined that “the recognition of injustice and the willingness to rectify it as far as possible should be the key principles of the policy on colonial collections in Dutch museums. The Netherlands must therefore be willing to return unconditionally any cultural objects looted in former Dutch colonies if the source country so requests.”

    Lilian Gonçalves-Ho Kang You, who chaired the report’s advisory committee, said the most important point of the report is “the admission that some items were taken against the owners’ will. They were looted, and this is injustice. Thus, there should be a willingness, where possible, for reparations or return (of the objects).”

    Numerous experts and officials from former Dutch colonies, including Indonesia, were consulted during the process of writing the report. “We had planned on visiting those countries, but unfortunately Covid-19 got in our way,” Gonçalves said during the report’s handover to the minister.

    The Gonçalves Committee advises the minister to coordinate this cultural heritage policy with former Dutch colonies, “in particular Indonesia, Surinam, and the Caribbean islands. It is important to respect these source countries’ views and wishes because that is the only way to achieve an outcome satisfactory to all parties.” 

    During the colonial period, the report pointed out, many cultural heritage objects were taken to the Netherlands as war loot. “This historical injustice is preserved in the colonial collections that can be seen today in Dutch museums.”

    Gonçalves recommends setting up an independent advisory committee to advise the minister on requests for the return of colonial heritage objects. The Gonçalves Committee also suggests establishing an expertise center on colonial objects, which could do research and create a database on colonial collections in Dutch museums.

    Read also: Luhut: the Netherlands Committed to Support Indonesian Tourism

    Linawati Sidarto