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The Netherlands to Return Colonial Artefacts

Nearly 500 objects looted by the Netherlands during colonial times will be returned to their countries of origin, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. The promise of returning these objects comes after the Netherlands decided to follow the recommendations of advisory boards. 


In 2020, according to a report written by the Dutch Council for Culture, led by human rights lawyer Lilian Gonçalves-Ho Kang You, the Dutch government was urged to return these objects that were taken by unjust means such as coercion and robbery during the colonial period. 


Dutch settlers were present in Sri Lanka for around 130 years between 1658 and 1796. Similarly, the Netherlands presided over Indonesia for  around 120 years between 1816 and 1941. Many claims about these looted objects taken during those periods of colonisation have been put forth by the Sri Lankan and Indonesian governments.  


Gunay Uslu, the Secretary of State and Media of the Netherlands announced in a press statement, that the country would return 478 artefacts looted from Indonesia and Sri Lanka during colonial times. 


The artefacts included in this pledge include many collections looted from countries and kept in museums. The Lombok Treasure was a collection of jewels stolen from Indonesia in 1894. It is currently being displayed at the famous Rijksmuseum, a famous Dutch museum in Amsterdam. Another important artefact set to be returned is the  Canon of Kandy . Also being displayed at the Rijksmuseum. It was believed to be  a gift given by a prominent Sri Lankan aristocrat to the King of Kandy in 1745. It is believed to have been taken by the Dutch in 1765 after the Dutch conquered the Kandy region in Sri Lanka. It was later gifted to the Dutch Prince of Orange, William V. 


The return of these objects is the start of reconciliation between the Netherlands and its colonial past. Uslu has commented on the announcement of the return of these artefacts and the possible reconciliation of nations, saying:  

“This is a historic moment [...] It’s the first time we’re following recommendations[…] to give back objects that should never have been brought to the Netherlands. But more than anything, it’s a moment to look to the future. We’re not only returning objects; we’re also embarking on a period of closer cooperation with Indonesia and Sri Lanka in areas like collection research, presentation and exchanges between museums.”


The return of these objects may inspire other ex-colonialist nations to peer into their own past and objects unjustly taken from nations to re-examine their relationship to these stolen artefacts.

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