bronze art on wall in museum

A Bungled Return of Treasured Artifacts

Helmut Anheier, adjunct professor of public policy and social welfare at UCLA Luskin, wrote a Project Syndicate commentary about the legal, political and moral questions surrounding a bungled attempt to repatriate the Benin Bronzes, plundered 125 years ago by colonial powers, to Nigeria. After Germany returned some of the elaborately decorated castings and carvings in December 2022, conflicting declarations about who their rightful owner is stoked confusion and raised fears that the cultural artifacts could wind up on the black market. “While there are lingering doubts about Europe’s and America’s willingness to return treasures that were looted or illicitly obtained during the colonial era, there are also questions about some countries’ readiness to honor the commitments governing such transfers,” Anheier wrote. To prevent narrow national interests from undermining the process of returning stolen national treasures, he urged that UNESCO be designated as the body overseeing such transfers, citing the body’s role as the custodian of world heritage sites.


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