The Department of Human Development and Social Affairs of the Commission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), organised a training session for legal experts from Member States on the procedures for the return of cultural artefacts to their countries of origin from 10 to 15 July 2023 in Accra (Ghana), followed by a review of the ECOWAS Action Plan 2019-2023 on the Return of African Cultural Artefacts to their Countries of Origin by Directors in charge of Cultural Heritage.
The training, which is part of the implementation of the ECOWAS Action Plan 2019-2023 on the Return of Cultural Artefacts to their Countries of Origin, brought together about 30 participants with expertise in cultural heritage, the majority of which were Directors of Cultural Heritage and legal experts, and lasted for five (5) days.
During the training session, the ECOWAS Directors in charge of Cultural Heritage reviewed the ECOWAS Action Plan 2019-2023 on the Return of Cultural Artefacts to their Countries of Origin, which has reached its deadline, in preparation for its subsequent approval by the ECOWAS Ministers of Culture.
The training aimed to equip legal experts from Member States working on the restitution of cultural artefacts to create a database and a pool of expertise on the return of cultural artefacts, and to provide Member States with a protocol on the procedures, steps and tools involved in the restitution process.
The closing ceremony, which took place on 15 June 2023 under the chairmanship of the Chief Director of Ghana’s Ministry of Culture, was attended by members of the Regional Follow-up Committee for the ECOWAS Action Plan on the Return of Cultural Artefacts and by the Director of Education, Science and Culture.
The Chief Director of Ghana’s Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mr John Yao Agbeko, closed the training session by extending his sincere gratitude to participants, stressing that the training would speed up the process of returning African cultural artefacts looted or lost during colonization.
He also urged Member States to work tirelessly to establish solid legal frameworks, foster international collaboration and advocate for the return of African cultural artefacts. According to him, the restitution process is not just an act of kindness, but a concrete step towards rectifying historical wrongs. He concluded by stressing the need to work together to achieve the region’s goals regarding the return of cultural artefacts.
In his address, Prof. Abdoulaye Maga, Director of Education, Science and Culture, representing the Commissioner for Human Development and Social Affairs, commended the hard work of participants. According to him, it is imperative that the various discussions lead to a common position among ECOWAS Member States in their efforts to recover their cultural artefacts, through cooperation and joint efforts by all stakeholders. He concluded by assuring participants that their recommendations would be passed on to the appropriate authorities for careful consideration.
The recommendations made to ECOWAS include: i) institute annual capacity-building for legal experts in the field of cultural heritage to create a bank of expertise on legal issues in the region; ii) disapprove of the Martinez report, and firmly reject any doctrine, report or legal text that does not take into account the entire history of Africa in accordance with the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1981), and the Political Declaration of the ECOWAS Heads of State and Government (2018); iii) encourage States to implement the ECOWAS Regional Action Plan at national levels; clearly define the role of the Regional Follow-up Committee by drafting regulations or terms of reference; iv) set up a digital system (platform) for pooling resources on the restitution process; v) seek guidance from the Authority of Heads of State and Government on the subject in order to boost regional momentum; vi) strengthen support for Member States, particularly in issuing requests and taking inventories, and in ratifying the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention and the 1970 UNESCO Convention; vii) encourage the creation of sovereign wealth funds at both the national and community levels in order to support requests for the restoration and enhancement of returned cultural artefacts; viii) invite all Member States to issue official requests as soon as possible in order to set the process in motion and raise awareness on the importance of the restitution process; mobilise countries in possession of African cultural artefacts in the fight against illicit trafficking to initiate dialogue in order to ensure the return of the artefacts.
The training was attended by Prof Abdoulaye Maga, Director of Education, Science and Culture, and Dr Emile Zida, Head of the Division of Arts and Culture of the ECOWAS Commission.