French senators have unanimously voted to return 27 objects held in the country’s museums to Benin and Senegal over the course of the next year. According to a report by the Art Newspaper, the bill concerns 26 statues looted from Benin by the French military in 1892 and a sword that belonged to a 19th-century military leader in West Africa.
The objects that will be returned to Benin are currently held by the Musée du Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac in Paris, which was the site of a protest focused on colonialism and repatriation organized by activist Mwazulu Diyabanza earlier this year, and the sword is now on loan to the Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar from France’s Army Museum.
The news follows a 2017 survey—known as the Savoy/Sarr report—focused on the repatriation of objects to Africa commissioned by French president Emmanuel Macron. French culture minister Roselyne Bachelot told Agence France-Presse that the bill “is not an act of repentance, but an act of friendship and trust.”
Stéphane Martin, the former president of the Musée du Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, has been publicly critical of the Savoy/Sarr report, calling its recommendation of a comprehensive repatriation of African objects “self-flagellation and repentance.”
The Art Newspaper reports that a senate committee report describes the “strictly exceptional, ad hoc and limited character” of the bill. French senators have reportedly advocated for the establishment of a national council “charged with reflecting on the circulation and return of non-European cultural objects” for future repatriation cases.
Other European nations have also taken steps toward creating organized repatriation efforts. In October, the directors of the the Rijksmuseum and Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam voiced support for an initiative by the Dutch government that would return an estimated 100,000 objects stolen from former colonies.