Human Rights & Public Liberties

Human Rights & Public Liberties

Published on: 13 Jan, 2021

Pressure on British Museum to return Ethiopian art treasures

Published on: 11 October, 2021
Ethiopian art treasures

Ethiopian art treasures

Following a legal opinion and a letter from three prominent British citizens, there is new hope that the Ethiopian tabots may be returned to Ethiopia by the British Museum.

The tabots are religious treasures that have been kept in the storage rooms of the British museum for 150 years and has never been on public display.

The treasures have huge religious and cultural symbolism to Ethiopians. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church consider the tabots as the dwelling place of God on Earth and the representation of the Ark of the Covenant.

The wooden and stone tabots were looted by the British after the battle of Maqdala in 1868. Hundreds of objects were plundered by the British after this battle.

The letter was signed by, amongst others, Stephen Fry, Sissay, the actor Rupert Everett and the former British ambassador to Ethiopia Sir Harold Walker.

After previous attempts were made by Ethiopia to get the tabots returned the British museum argued that the  British Museum Act of 1963 forbids the museum to restitute objects in its collection.

According to The Guardian the legal opinion has been drawn up Samantha Knights QC and was commissioned by the Scheherazade Foundation. The opinion points out that the 1963 act has a provision that allows disposal of objects “unfit to be retained” and that can be disposed “without detriment to the interests of students”.