France’s Restitution of Art to Benin and Senegal Has Hit a Snag

Royal Seat of the Kingdom of Dahomey on June 18, 2018 at the Quai Branly Museum-Jacques Chirac in Paris. GERARD JULIEN/AFP via Getty Images

In November, two years after President Emmanuel Macron of France announced his intention to eventually return artworks looted by France from the city of Abomey in Benin to their country of origin, 343 French senators approved a bill that guarantees the return of these colonial-era objects within the span of one calendar year. However, as of this week, the French Senate has reportedly blocked the passing of this bill due to arguments over its specific terms.

According to The Art Newspaper, the dispute is based around the French Senate’s need to establish a national council that would advise the government on restitution claims, as well as facilitate similar processes in the future.

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As you might imagine, constructing an entirely new governmental group in order to make these kinds of decisions isn’t exactly simple. Additionally, members of the French Senate are squabbling over certain word choices in the proposed new legislation: some are arguing that the word “restitution” in the draft should be swapped out for the more innocuous word “return” when it comes to discussing the looted objects. It may be that in order for the Benin-Senegal restitution bill to pass, intervention might be needed from Jean Castex, the Prime Minister of France.

“We must establish a democratic, transparent and scientific method [of restitution] which clarifies political decision-making,” Catherine Morin Desailly, the head of France’s fact-finding committee with regards to restitution, is reported as saying.

However, it’s undeniable that the clock is running out to get these items sent back to their country of origin, especially because plans to design a museum to house the items are already underway. If one step in the process can’t be completed, the whole project will either be delayed indefinitely or just fall apart. France’s Restitution of Art to Benin and Senegal Has Hit a Snag