Foreign Minister returns stolen cultural artefact to Myanmar

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Credit: © Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo/Ellen C. Holte

The illicit trade in cultural artefacts is a global problem and helps to finance international crime. ‘It is a pleasure for Norway to return a sculpture to the authorities in Myanmar. We hope this will set an example for others to follow,’ said Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende.

Brende is today in the capital of Myanmar, Nay Pyi Taw. At a formal ceremony with the Myanmar authorities, he will return a Buddha sculpture that was illicitly imported to Norway in 2011 via Thailand.

‘Norway wants to help ensure that stolen cultural artefacts are brought back to their countries of origin, in line with international agreements. I am pleased that this beautiful sculpture is now finally back in Myanmar. At the same time, I am concerned to see that the   illicit trade in cultural objects is growing, that it is taking new forms, and that it often involves international criminal networks. Profits from the illicit trade are also used to finance terrorist activities,’ said Mr Brende.  

The sculpture, which is between 150 and 200 years old and made of alabaster and decorated with varnish, gold and glass, was discovered by an observant customs officer in Drammen in 2011. Since then, there has been an extensive process to trace its origins and finally return it to its country of origin. Close cooperation between a range of actors in Norway and other countries has made this possible. Those involved include Norwegian Customs, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, international experts, the authorities in Thailand and Myanmar, and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

‘We urge all countries to strengthen their efforts to protect and return cultural objects that have gone astray. We need to see closer international cooperation to enable countries to honour their international obligations and stop illicit activities of this kind,’ said Mr   Brende. 

Countries in every part of the world experience art and cultural property crime. However, countries affected by wars, crises or natural disasters are particularly vulnerable to looting and this kind of crime, as has been seen in Iraq and Syria. The UN has adopted a number of conventions to prevent and combat illicit trafficking in cultural property. Norway supports the work of UNESCO and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in this area. 

For more information, see   the website of the Ministry of Culture.