Arab League calls for return of stolen archives from colonial states

The bloc called for the implementation of policies that prevent the theft and misuse of Arab archives.

The Arab League stressed the need for the return of stolen archives from the region by foreign and colonial countries, in comments made during the 2022 Arab Document Day on Sunday.

The regional bloc held a meeting in its headquarters in Cairo, where member states emphasised the role of archives in connecting communities globally. Discussions over the looted Arab archives also took place under the Executive Committee on the Unified Arab Strategy.

The Arab League inked various memoranda of understanding between the General Secretariat of the League of Arab States along with several regional Arab documentation and information centres. 

Haifa Abu-Ghazaleh, the bloc’s Assistant Secretary-General and Head of the Social Affairs Sector, noted that archives serve as a crucial element in preserving the memory of the Arab world and its identity.

The official called for the implementation of policies that prevent the theft and misuse of archives from the region.

Abu-Ghazaleh stressed that Arab nations bear the responsibility to protect archives, adding that Palestinian archives particularly help in preserving Jerusalem’s identity from ongoing Israeli distortions.

The ongoing Israeli occupation’s theft of Palestinian archives as well as its attempted erasure of the Palestinian identity remain as key issues of concern for the Arab League.

Aside from land theft, Israel has been exposed by Palestinians and activists globally for its attempt to steal key cultural elements, including traditional clothing as well as Palestinian cuisine. 

Iraq’s stolen artefacts

Iraq has also been victim of stolen artefacts, with looting increasing since 2003 when the US launched a deadly invasion.

Last year, the US returned more than 17,000 smuggled artefacts to Iraq which date back 4,000 years.

In June, an Iraqi court sentenced retired British geologist Jim Fitton to 15 years for intentionally smuggling artefacts dating older than 200 years out of Baghdad.

The British national was arrested in March at the Baghdad airport upon discovery of items in his luggage.

In 2019, the British Museum also announced plans to return 154 Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets to the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad that were taken in 2011.

Meanwhile in 2017, France returned to Egypt eight antiques that were seized by French customs in 2010. France had colonised Egypt between 1798 and 1801.

Then in 2018, Switzerland returned 26 ancient statues to Egypt and various amulets such as the Eye of Horus.

Qatar’s efforts

Doha has been leading global efforts to ensure the protection and preservation of historic pieces, as per its membership with the World Heritage Committee.

In 2014, Qatar pledged $10 million as part of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed with UNESCO to support its programme for the protection of cultural and natural heritage in emergency situations.

“This contribution is a direct response to the destruction of cultural heritage in times of conflict, and I take this as a call for all Member States and partners to join forces to halt cultural cleansing,” said UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, said at the time.

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