The Return of Fossils Removed Under Colonial Rule

Dunne E, Raja Schoob NB, Stewens P (2022)

Publication Language: English

Publication Type: Other publication type

Publication year: 2022

Publisher: Santander Art and Culture Law Review


DOI: 10.4467/2450050XSNR.22.013.17026

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Debates on the restitution of colonial loot usually focus on art, antiquities, religious artefacts, and similar objects. Many fossils of considerable scientific and cultural value were also removed under colonial rule, yet they rarely feature in these discussions despite being classified as cultural objects. This article seeks to shed light on the colonial removal of fossils and explore potential avenues for their return under public international law. Instead of focusing on the (il-)legality of colonial takings, we argue that the right to access culture has developed from the right to participate in cultural life in Article 15(1)(a) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which provides, if not a solid legal basis, a valuable set of arguments for former colonies requesting the return of fossils looted from their countries/territories of origin. The case study of the negotiations on the return of the Broken Hill skull before the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP) highlights the potential of this mechanism of dispute resolution with respect to fossils. 

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Dunne, E., Raja Schoob, N.B., & Stewens, P. (2022). The Return of Fossils Removed Under Colonial Rule. Santander Art and Culture Law Review.


Dunne, Emma, Nussaibah Begum Raja Schoob, and Paul Stewens. The Return of Fossils Removed Under Colonial Rule. Santander Art and Culture Law Review, 2022.

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