Call for protection of culture, return of property to countries of origin | India News - The Indian Express

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Sep 10, 2023, 8:38:41 PM9/10/23
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Call for protection of culture, return of property to countries of origin

The Ministry of Culture had organised an exhibition titled ‘Re(ad)dress: Return of Treasures’, on the sidelines of the Khajuraho meet, showcasing 26 artefacts that have returned to India after being stolen and smuggled abroad.

Written by Divya A - New Delhi | Updated: September 9, 2023 20:21 IST
G20 summit in New Delhi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears on a screen as he attends "Session II: One Family" at the G20 summit in New Delhi, India, Sept. 9, 2023. (AP/PTI)

Paragraph 31 of the New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration adopted on Saturday puts culture in the driver’s seat towards the achievement of sustainable development goals (SDGs). The declaration calls for full recognition and protection of culture, with its intrinsic value, as a transformative driver and enabler for the achievement of SDGs.

In the document, the G20 leaders also reiterated their “commitment to strengthen the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property at national, regional or international levels” and to enable its return and restitution to their countries and communities of origin as relevant. India had proposed “restitution of cultural heritage” as part of the G20 culture track agenda during India’s Presidency.

#G20 New Delhi Leaders' Declaration
G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration excerpt (Screenshot)

In fact, prevention of illegal trafficking of antiquities and the return of such objects has been among the main themes of the deliberations of the culture working group, through its four meetings – starting with Khajuraho in February, followed by Bhubaneswar in May, Hampi in July, and finally, the ministerial held last month in Varanasi.

In fact, to highlight this, the Ministry of Culture had organised an exhibition titled ‘Re(ad)dress: Return of Treasures’, on the sidelines of the Khajuraho meet, showcasing 26 artefacts that have returned to India after being stolen and smuggled abroad.

The 1970 UNESCO Convention enjoins upon all the signatories to voluntarily return all the artefacts that have been taken there due to misappropriation through smuggling, theft or other such means. The leaders’ declaration called for “sustained dialogue and action in that endeavour, with a view to strengthen cultural diplomacy and intercultural exchanges, consistent with national law and relevant UNESCO Conventions”.

It also advanced the inclusion of culture “as a standalone goal” in future discussions on a possible post-2030 development agenda. Will leverage digital technologies for the protection and promotion of culture and cultural heritage and adopt digital frameworks for the development of cultural and creative sectors and industries.

Para 60, which talks about fostering digital ecosystems, mentions the leveraging of digital technologies for the protection and promotion of culture and cultural heritage. This was another theme put forth by India’s G20 Presidency.

The New Delhi Declaration alludes to the Kashi Culture Pathway, which was adopted at the end of the G20 Culture Ministerial Meeting last month. As per the Kashi Culture Pathway, threats to cultural heritage and cultural resources also included “looting and illicit trafficking of cultural property, the intentional or collateral destruction of cultural heritage and sites, desecration of relics and shrines, illicit excavations, forgery and the misappropriation of cultural heritage”.

The document said such acts may result in the loss of irreplaceable cultural assets and the disruption of socio-cultural practices, potentially impacting peoples and communities, including cultural, human, economic and social rights.

The ministers also underlined that destruction and illicit trafficking of cultural property can be linked to organised crimes such as money laundering, corruption, tax evasion and terrorist financing, notably in conflict or post-conflict situations, and reiterating their commitment to strengthen this fight.

While there was consensus on all issues pertaining to culture, there was a discord from Russia and China with regard to two paras labelled as ‘Geopolitical Issues’, which mentioned Russia’s aggression on Ukraine. However, all the countries stood united against the destruction of cultural heritage, whether intentional or collateral, notably in situations of conflicts.

First published on: 09-09-2023 at 19:09 IST

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