As reported in several international media, on 6 July the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Børge Brende, formally returned a Buddha sculpture at the National Museum of Myanmar, Nay Pyi Taw, an ASEMUS member. The sculpture had been illicitly imported to Norway in 2011 via Thailand.
The alabaster statue depicts Buddha in the mudra of ‘earth witness’ (bhūmisparśa), one of the most common iconic representations of Buddha images in Myanmar. Its tumultuous story dates back to 2011 when the Norwegian Customs identified and prevented the illegal import of this cultural artefact. The Norwegian prosecutor confiscated the statue and, after years of research, the statue was identified by experts as originating from the Mandalay region in Myanmar and estimated to be between 150 and 200 years old. Hence, as a protected cultural object, the procedure for the return to its country of origin was initiated by the Government of Norway.
Recalling that both states are parties to the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, and bearing in mind the good relations based on mutual trust, representatives of the Governments of Norway and Myanmar, met at UNESCO in Paris on 16 January 2017 to formalise the statue’s return. According to UNESCO, the process conducted by Norwegian authorities to return the Buddha statue, illustrates a best practice for return of cultural property. Norway hindered the illegal import of the statue and engaged specialists to find its country of origin, thus securing a successful return to its country of origin, Myanmar.
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