Summary of report Advisory Committee on the National Policy Framework for Colonial Collections

Demonstrate a willingness to return colonial looted art

The recognition of injustice and the willingness to rectify it as far as possible should be the key principles of the policy on colonial collections in Dutch museums. The Netherlands must therefore be willing to return unconditionally any cultural objects looted in former Dutch colonies if the source country so requests. That is according to the advisory report by the Advisory Committee on the National Policy Framework for Colonial Collections presented today to the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Ingrid van Engelshoven. This Advisory Committee, chaired by Lilian Gonçalves-Ho Kang You, was established by the Council for Culture last year at the Minister's request.

During the colonial period many cultural heritage objects were brought to the Netherlands against their owners’ will, for example as war loot. This historical injustice is preserved in the colonial collections that can be seen today in Dutch museums. The Gonçalves Committee believes the Netherlands must assume responsibility for its colonial past by making the recognition and redress of this injustice a key principle of the policy on colonial collections. Discussions with representatives of countries formerly colonized by the Netherlands also emphasized the importance of recognizing this injustice.

The Committee advises Minister Van Engelshoven to coordinate this policy with countries  formerly under Dutch colonial rule, in particular Indonesia, Suriname and the Caribbean islands. It is important to respect these source countries’ views and wishes, because that is the only way to achieve an outcome satisfactory to all parties. The Netherlands must take care not to adopt a neocolonial approach based only on its own views and standards, the Committee warns.

Discussion partners from source countries also expressed a desire to cooperate with the Netherlands. For example, they want fuller information on the presence and provenance history of the colonial cultural objects held by Dutch museums. They also want to work together to develop appropriate museum infrastructure and arrange exchanges of students and academics and internships in Dutch museums.

The Gonçalves Committee also recommends setting up an independent Advisory Committee to advise the Minister on requests to return colonial cultural heritage. This committee’s recommendations must be made public.

Requests to return cultural heritage objects which were not looted, or which originated from countries that were not Dutch colonies, should also be considered, especially if they are of especial cultural, historical or religious interest to the country of origin. But unlike requests to return cultural objects looted from former Dutch colonies, such requests for return will not be honoured unconditionally. The newly established independent Advisory Committee will assess the reasonableness and fairness of these requests and weigh up the interests involved.

Finally, the Gonçalves Committee recommends establishing an Centre of Expertise on the Provenance of Colonial Objects. This centre could conduct additional provenance research and create a publicly accessible database on colonial collections in Dutch museums.