The independent Colonial Collections Committee was set up to advise the State Secretary for Culture and Media on restitution requests for cultural goods that were removed from their original setting in the context of colonial rule. The Committee’s advice is made public following the decision taken by the State Secretary based on this advice.
Colonial collections and recognition of injustice
In 2020, the Council for Culture’s National Policy Framework for Colonial Collections Advisory Committee presented the advisory report Colonial Collections and Recognition of Injustice to the Minister of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) on the handling of these cultural goods. This report advised the Minister to unconditionally return cultural goods from former Dutch colonies that, with reasonable certainty, can be shown to have been involuntarily lost by the countries of origin and which have come into the possession of the Dutch state.
The Dutch government adopted this advice, which was subsequently laid down in the Policy Vision on Collections from a Colonial Context. In taking this approach, the Dutch government accepts responsibility for its colonial past and makes the recognition and redress of injustice the starting point for its policy on colonial collections.
Balance of interests
Restitution requests for cultural goods that have not been looted or that originate from countries that were not Dutch colonies may also be considered by the Committee, for instance if these goods hold special cultural, historical or religious importance for the country of origin. In such cases, the Committee weighs the interests at stake. The importance of the return of the object to the country of origin is considered in the light of other relevant interests.
Relevant interests may include the cultural and scientific significance that a cultural object holds for the country of origin and the affected communities, both in the countries of origin and in the Netherlands. Other relevant interests include public accessibility and the conditions for future conservation. Cultural objects can hold great meaning in relation to national and regional traditions and the identity of a country, a people, a community or an individual. The importance of cultural goods with a colonial background will often be different to the Netherlands than to the country of origin. Dutch people with roots in the countries of origin are another group for whom cultural goods held in Dutch museums may have a special meaning.
If the object whose restitution has been requested originates from a former colony of another power, the Committee also makes a carefully balanced decision. In these cases too, the importance of the return of the object to the country of origin is considered in the light of other relevant interests. However, redress of injustice will always be the starting point in the assessment. In such cases, the injustice was not caused by the Netherlands, but the Netherlands, as the current owner of these cultural goods, is the only party in a position to redress the injustice.