Update (November 26, 2018): Benin is set to get 26 of its national treasures back from France, Al Jazeera reports.
Following the release of a government-commissioned report recommending France repatriate treasures taken by force from countries during its colonial period, French President Emmanuel Macron has ordered 26 of Benin's artifacts currently held in French museums be returned "without delay."
Macron has said there is "no valid, lasting and unconditional justification" for European countries to hold onto stolen treasures and that returning plundered valuables to their nations of origin is "one of my priorities."
Currently, French law bars the government from giving away items considered to be state property, whether they were paid for or stolen. While the report urged the French government to edit this law to provide a legal framework for repatriation, it isn't clear whether Macron will direct lawmakers to do so or whether the return of Benin's artifacts will be conducted some other way.
It also isn't clear when and if other plundered treasures will be returned to their countries or if other former European imperial powers such as the U.K. and Spain will follow France's example.
The works from Benin represent about 0.02 percent of African pieces held by French museums; it is estimated the country is in possession of approximately 90,000 artifacts. Macron has yet to comment on the fate of the other 89,974 works.
Original: Some of France's most famous museums are holding African art hostage. According to a report commissioned by France’s President Emmanuel Macron, France holds over 90,000 objects inside of its major museums from countries spanning Sub-Saharan Africa. The controversy around the artifacts gained significant media attention in 2016 when President Patrice Talon of Benin demanded that carvings and other sacred pieces be returned to his country.
The president commissioned French art historian Benedicte Savoy and Senegalese writer Felwine Sarr to create a report used to request restitution. The report calls for an amendment of the French law that makes it forbidden to remove pieces from their museums permanently. The goal is to return all of the objects to their countries of origin.
“On a continent where 60 percent of the population is under the age of 20 years old, what is first and foremost of great importance is for young people to have access to their own culture, creativity and spirituality from other eras,” the report said.
Last November, President Macron gave a speech in Burkina Faso regarding the restitution.
“I cannot accept that a large part of the cultural heritage of several African countries should be in France,” he said.
The daughter of Benin’s former prime minister and president of Zinsou Art Foundation shared her thoughts with Parisian news agency Agence France-Presse.
“Today it feels as if we’re just a step away from recovering our history and being finally able to share it on the continent,” she said.
France's Quai Branly Museum holds over 70,000 artifacts alone.
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