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A story on how the recent spate of artefact repatriations to Cambodia has sparked a renewed interest in the country’s past.
Repatriated head at the National Museum of Phnom Penh. 20160413
Returned Artifacts Stir New Interest in Cambodian Antiquity
VOA Cambodia, 13 April 2016
On a recent Friday afternoon Choup Leakhena, 18, was wondering around Phnom Penh’s National Museum, taking selfies with some of the institution’s impressive—and growing—collection of ancient Khmer sculpture.
A freshman at Pannasastra University who hails from Takmao city in Kandal province, Leakhena told VOA Khmer that the beauty of the works gave her a sense of national pride.
“I love and appreciate these masterpieces, such as the apsara”—a celestial nymph from Hindu mythology—“the statues of [12th century Khmer monarch] Jayavarman VII, Vishnu and Buddha,” she said. “I am able to see into life in the past.”
Artifacts looted from Cambodia’s ancient temples during decades of conflict have started to flow back into the country, giving young Cambodians like Leakhena an opportunity to embrace the country’s cultural heritage and history.
“I came here because I want to learn about it,” she said. “Finally, I can see [the sculptures] and I can admire our Khmer ancestors, who created such precious pieces for us. It’s really unique. Other countries don’t have such amazing artworks.”
In a remarkably successful campaign in recent years, the Cambodian government has identified looted artifacts abroad and initiated legal efforts to reclaim them. And the tide appears to have turned, with many of the treasures spirited away and sold on the black market now finding their way back to the nation that made them.
Full story here.
Cambodia’s recent successes in repatriating a number of Khmer antiquities from the US is of interest to China, because of the recent news of a 1,000 year old statue containing the mummified remains of a monk going on sale in the Netherlands.
Koh Ker warrior, VOA 20120306
Interview: Cambodia shares successful story on repatriation of stolen antiquities
Xinhua, 28 March 2015
Cambodia successfully reclaimed five antiques that were looted by the United States during the country’s civil war, after effective diplomatic and legal work, a senior government official told Xinhua in a recent interview, in which ways other countries may reclaim stolen artifacts was shared.
The five ancient statues, which were looted from Cambodia during the time of the country’s civil war in the 1970s, had been repatriated from the United States to Cambodia between June 2013 and June 2014.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Office of the Council of Ministers, which represented the Cambodian government to reclaim the cultural objects, said international law, close cooperation between Cambodia and the United States, and concrete evidence, had led Cambodia to successfully retrieving its looted artifacts.
Full story here.
Yesterday (10 Mar 2011) I had the brilliant opportunity to witness the return of artefacts smuggled out of Cambodia by the Australian government at a ceremony at the Cambodian embassy in Canberra. The reception was hosted by His Excellency Chum Sounry, the Ambassador for Cambodia.
Repatriated artefacts from Australia to Cambodia
Cambodia looks set to join a growing list of countries seeking the return of its cultural heritage properties and artefacts housed in museums and private collections in the west. I wonder if other Southeast Asian nations are involved in this conference in EgyptÂ – I can think of Vietnam and Indonesia who would also be interested in seeking the return of artefacts spirited away during the colonial period. If so, we might expect to see an increase of repatriation requests in SEAArch over the next couple of years.
photo credit: Adam Jones, Ph.D.
Summit may see return of artefacts
Phnom Penh Post, 08 January 2010
via The Diplomat, 13 Dec 2018: France recently returned artefacts to Benin. Why not Cambodia?
The debate as to whether international museums and governments should return cultural artifacts acquired during the colonial period is not a new one. However, it has now been re-energized by French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision that France will return 26 cultural artifacts to Benin. The announcement follows the release of a presidential-commissioned report by French art historian Bénédicte Savoy and Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr, calling for thousands of African cultural artifacts taken during the colonial period to be returned to their respective countries, if requested. Although the report is only limited to Africa, as a former French colony, Cambodia should demand the repatriations of its cultural artifacts as well.
The report could have far-reaching repercussions for international museum housing cultural artifacts taken during the colonial period, and for the colonialized countries wanting their cultural heritage back. With around 90 to 95 percent of Africa’s cultural heritage outside the continent in major museums, the report seeks to rebalance the access former colonized countries have to their own cultural heritage. The report recommends the restitution of “any objects taken by force or presumed to be acquired through inequitable conditions” by the army, scientific explorers, or colonial administrators from the late 19th century until 1960.
Like Benin, Cambodia was also a part of the French Colonial Empire, having joined as a French protectorate in 1863 under the reign of King Norodom. Until the 15th century, Cambodia was a strong regional power; however, by the late 18th century it faced extinction as a sovereign state threatened by both Siam (modern Thailand) and Vietnam. Although the protectorate status ensured Cambodia’s territorial integrity remained intact against its neighbors, France largely controlled Cambodia’s internal and external affairs as a result. Cambodia was designated as a colonie d’exploitation (colony of economic exploitation).
Source: It’s Time for French Museums to Return Cambodian Artifacts | The Diplomat
From Dr. Catherine P. Foster of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), U.S. Department of State. Please lend your voice in support of this agreement; we’ve had a number of high-profile repatriations from the US to Cambodia over the past few years, and they are facilitated by agreements such as these.
It is with pleasure I bring to your attention that the United States and Cambodia have proposed another 5-year extension of the cultural property agreement first entered into in 2003 under the U.S. Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, which implements the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Official announcement of the proposal can be found here.
The President’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) will meet October 23-24 to review this proposed extension and to formulate its recommendations. I encourage you to submit comments to the CPAC regarding the proposed agreement extension, focusing on the four factors or “determinations” that the CPAC must consider:
All comments must be submitted in writing by October 15. Use http://www.regulations.gov, enter docket DOS-2017-0036, and follow the prompts to submit written comments.
CPAC will also hold an open session of its meeting on October 23 at 10:00 am EDT. I also encourage you to participate in this open session, which will be available using the Zoom platform from your work or home office. More details will be posted on the Cultural Heritage Center website in mid-October. More information is available in the CPAC meeting announcement.
Coming from a region that falls victim to frequent looting of archaeological sites, I personally find it hard to agree against the repatriation of artefacts that have been proven to be stolen, such as the case of the Koh Ker sculpture that still remains in the Denver Museum of Art.
Experts disagree over antiquity repatriations
Phnom Penh Post, 23 May 2015
While an unknown number of looted Cambodian artefacts – mostly taken during the turbulent 1970s and ’80s – are scattered in private collections around the world, a number have found their way into major museums’ exhibits. The recently returned Hanuman statue, for instance, was one of nine statues looted from Prasat Chen temple in the Koh Ker temple complex.
Four of the other Prasat Chen statues have been repatriated by various US museums and auction houses in recent years, three are unaccounted for, while a torso of the Hindu god Rama remains in the Denver Museum of Art.
“I would be very grateful to these private owners, if they read these lines, to give them back generously to Cambodia to reunify the nine sculptures of this unique but incomplete ensemble depicting the Mahabharata,” said Anne LeMaistre, head of UNESCO in Cambodia.
Full story here.
The American federal prosecution team responsible for sparking a wave of repatriation of Cambodian antiquities from American universities were honoured recently by the Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia.
Tomb Raiders and Returns: Recovering Cambodian Antiquities and Our Collective Culture
Huffington Post, 23 May 2014
Sidney Jhingran, a reader and student from the University of Toronto, shares this article he first contributed for his campus newspaper.
Cambodia’s Looting Crisis: The Illicit Trade in Khmer Antiquities
Those concerned about the state of Cambodia’s cultural heritage have been closely following the ongoing legal debate between the acclaimed auction house Sotheby’s on the one hand and the government of Cambodia (receiving support from the United States) on the other. The dispute revolves around Sotheby’s planned sale of a tenth-century Khmer statue, which was allegedly looted from the Prasat Chen temple at Koh Ker in the late 1960s or early 1970s (see here, here, and here for accounts of story—see here for a related case against the Metropolitan Museum of Art).
10 th century Khmer statue held by Sotheby’s. Right: feet of the statue left behind by looters at Koh Ker.
Radio Free Asia 20120608
Cambodia Sues for Statue’s Return
Radio Free Asia, 08 June 2012