British Museum faces probe over withheld Ethiopian artifacts

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Editor : Selin Hayat Hacialioglu
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A complaint by Returning Heritage against the British Museum over Ethiopian artifacts confidentiality leads to an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office

British Museum faces probe over withheld Ethiopian artifacts

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has launched an investigation into the British Museum. The investigation focuses on claims that the museum has concealed key details about its collection of Ethiopian artifacts.

The sacred items known as tabots have been a source of controversy for over 150 years.

British soldiers looted the 11 wooden and stone tabots after the Battle of Maqdala in 1868. Since then, these artifacts, too sacred for even museum staff to view, have remained hidden from the public eye.

The controversy escalated after Returning Heritage, a cultural restitution organization, filed a complaint with the ICO, as reported by the Guardian. They accused the British Museum of not fully disclosing information related to the tabots in response to a freedom of information request.

Lewis McNaught, managing editor of Returning Heritage, criticized the museum, stating, "It seems very strange that the museum would not wish to explain why they’re holding on to objects that they can return."

At the heart of the dispute is the British Museum Act of 1963, which generally prevents the museum from removing items from its collection.

However, McNaught highlights that "the act is very explicit that the museum (can’t) return objects. But there are some legal exemptions within the act." These exemptions could allow the return of the tabots, as they are unfit for exhibition or study.

The significance of these artifacts extends far beyond legal arguments, touching upon cultural and international sensitivities. The past return of similar artifacts to Ethiopia has been met with jubilation, emphasizing the profound connection these items have with Ethiopian heritage.

Tom Short, a lawyer from Leigh Day representing Returning Heritage, argues for transparency, saying, “Our client seeks information from the museum that many would argue should be in the public domain by default.”

He challenges the museum's reliance on Freedom of Information exemptions to withhold information.

Source: Newsroom

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