The Legal and Moral Conscience of Justice in the European Collection of Colonial Provenance
The Bangwa Quest for Restitution and Reparations
by Chief Charles A. Taku
Panel: Law versus Justice? An Intercultural Approach to the Problem of European Collections of Colonial Provenance Wednesday, 23 June, 11:15 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. (CET)
The topic of this conference Law versus Justice? An Intercultural Approach to the Problem of European Collections of Colonial Provenance is at the heart of a lively but difficult debate in Africa. I have been involved in that debate since 1991. This debate should not be difficult due to the fact that the provenance of the arts in the European Collections is not in serious controversy, the debate appears not only difficult but complicated. This complication arises from the capricious nature of law which is both a bane and a balm in resolving the matter in controversy,
As a great grandson of one of Africa’s historic Kings, His Majesty Fontem Asonganyi whose artefacts are on display in the European Collections, I am fully conscious of the circumstances under which the Bangwa Queen and our other precious arts were collected by German expeditionary forces during the pendency of a punitive military campaign on February 8, 1900 which lasted nine years to avenge the death of a German citizen. An acquisition in these circumstances, cannot be deemed legal under any circumstance; although colonial rule under which the punitive expedition and the appropriation of the arts occurred, deemed it legal. Africa and European colonial possesses were not subjects of international law. Under the laws and customs of war and the principle of proportionality the degree of devastation that was caused and the looting that occurred cannot be deemed legal. Not then and not now.
There may be a distinction between arts which were procured through commercial transactions with some African monarchs and people and those which were acquired by the use of force. The laws under colonial rule which are still applicable in some African countries, did not paint these situations with the same brush. Each situation must therefore, be considered on its merit. The museums in which the European collections are on display have consistently pointed to the historical record in their possession to assert and defend their rights of ownership.
The right of ownership may not be settled by the historical record alone. The validity of such records while acknowledged, is no longer as conclusive as it was during the colonial era when it was established. The original owners did not participate in the establishment of the record.
The civilized world is conscious that, the partition of Africa among European colonial powers provided a justification for violations in which these arts were appropriated. The appropriation of these arts was an integral part of colonial policy. The former colonial masters are therefore, not innocent bystanders on this matter. Persons who appropriated the arts were their agents. They bear primary responsibility for the appropriation and for the return of the arts to their legitimate owners.
European Collections are part of African heritage and patrimony. The museums in which these arts are on display did not directly appropriate or loot them. The laws of individual colonial countries guaranteed them property rights over this African patrimony. This included the Bangwa Queen, the Bangwa King and the personal symbols of power and authority of my great grandfather. International law expect state parties to respect their treaty obligation, especially obligations towards former colonies at independence and thereafter. Former colonial powers have done little to encourage dialogue between contesting parties in the European collections. They have not paid reparations and restituted these arts to the rightful owners. They have not encouraged or organized intercultural discussions to resolve contesting claims.
This conference offers an opportunity to begin a discussion which many of the museums and private holders have hesitated to engage in. The fact that I have come forth more than a century and two decades after the German punitive expedition to seek the restitution and the payment of reparations for our arts establishes the fact that our cry for justice will not abate.
I recognize the fact that the capricious nature of law makes the exploration of other means of attaining justice, worthwhile. The United Nations Human Rights Advisory Committee adopted Resolution 20002/5 of August 12, 2002 on the recognition of responsibility and reparation for massive and flagrant violations of human rights which constitute crimes against humanity and which took place during the period of slavery, colonialism, and wars of conquest. The resolution recommended other avenues of obtaining justice without going through costly litigation. In its point 3, the resolution requested all countries concerned to acknowledge their historical responsibility and the consequences which follow from it to take initiatives which would assist, notably through debate on the basis of accurate information, in the raising of public awareness of the disastrous consequences of periods of slavery, colonialism and wars of conquest and the necessity of just reparation. The United Nations Human Rights Advisory Committee in this resolution recognized state responsibility in providing a solution to this and other historical wrongs.
The intercultural approach which is on discussion in this conference appears attractive and should be sufficiently explored. It can offer an avenue and perspective for the realisation of the goals of the United Nations Human Rights Advisory Committee which I share. The intercultural approach will provide the opportunity for the contestants to the European Collection to present a new image and message to a world which represents the true face of humanity on this matter. It may provide an opportunity for Dapper Foundation in France, the National Museum in Berlin across European others to provide us access to our spiritual symbols and our symbols of power which are their custody.
Chief Taku is a certified leading International law expert of forty years professional and trial experience. He provides legal representation for governments, victims and accused persons before international courts and tribunals.
He is the immediate past President of the International Criminal Court Bar Association (ICCBA) and a Trustee and member for life of the Executive Governing Council of the African Bar Association (AfBA).
As President ICCBA, Chief Taku addressed the plenary of the ICC during the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute on July 17, 2018 and the Assembly of State Parties Conference on 6 December 2018 in the Hague, Netherlands.
Over the last two decades, he represented clients at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the International Criminal Court, the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva and the African Court on Human and Peoples ‘Rights in Arusha Tanzania.
Chief Taku ( HRH Fuatabong Achaleke Taku) is a traditional Chief in Lebang, Bangwa Fontem. He is a great grandson of His Majesty the legendary King, Fontem Asonganyi ( 1840- 1951) the King of the Bangwa-Fontem Tribe in West Africa.
Discriminatory International Justice: Paper presented at a Conference of the Collective of Victims of Burundi Genocide of the Hutu: New York May, 2, 2015
Developments in criminal jurisdiction and the impact of the International Criminal Court's prosecution and investigation policies on ICC African Situations: Presentation to ABA-SIL International Law Section, April 16, 2015
“The Marginalized Intruder: Defense Perspectives on Progressive Development of International Law” presented at a side even organized by Africa Legal Aid and co-sponsored by the governments of The Netherlands and Ghana on December 12, 2014 during the Assembly of State Parties of the International Criminal Court at the United Nations in New York.
Panelist at the legacy conference of the UNICTR, Arusha Tanzania 7 November 2014: Presented a paper on “The evolution of Defense Council in International Courts and Tribunals”.
Panelist at the ICTR Defense Legacy Conference co-organized with Laval University Montreal Canada on September 28, 2012: Presented a paper on African court, International Criminal Courts and the Quest for a new World Judicial Order.
Participant at the Legacy Conference of the Special Court for Sierra Leone on 6-7 November 2011 in the Canadian Mission to the UN in New York, USA
Invited by the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC and the University of California Los Angeles Law School Senela Diana Jenkins Human Rights Project to participate in the discussion on the topic: “Is the ICC inappropriately targeting Africa”? www.iccforum.com,
Panelist at the ICTR Legacy Conference in Brussel Belgium, 2010: Presented paper titled, “Gacaca and meaning of Confessions”.
Panelist at the ICTR Legacy Conference in the Hague Netherlands in 2009: Presented a paper titled “Towards a judicial genocide of the Hutu?”
Publications in professional journals
ABA-SIL-Africa Law Today Fall/winter 2014-2015 Edition:
Evolution of Defence Systems in International Courts: Evolution of Defence systems in International Courts http://tinyurl.com/ALFall/winter2014-15.
ABA-SIL Africa September2014: The Quest for Credible International Justice: Africa Law Today (2014 spring/Summer Edition), the ABA-SIL's Africa http://tinyurl.com/ALTSpringSummer2014
ABA-SIL Africa USA March 2014: Testing the Frontiers of Inconsistent Jurisprudence: Winter Edition of Africa Law Today (2014 Winter Edition), the ABA-SIL’S Africa http://tinyurl.com/AfricaLawTodayWinterEd 2014.
The New Face of International Law: The UN Charter and the Right to Protect or Humanitarian Interventionism published in Cameroon Journal of Human.2011 Rights, http://.www.cjdh.org;
The Gacaca Courts and the meaning of Confessions .2010 Paper presented at the ICTR Defence Lagacy Conference Brussel, Belgium: www.tpirheritagedefense.org/.../Charles_Taku_gacaca
Africa at 50: Anything to celebrate? : www.nigeriaworld.com
The Politicisation of International Justice: Forth coming.
Contributor: The International Criminal Court : Contemporary Issues Facing the International Criminal Court. Edited by Professor Richard Steinberg, Leiden: Brill Nijhoff 2016
Contributor Justice Belied: Baraka Books Montreal 2014
Contextual Foundations of International Criminal Jurisprudence: An Insider Perspective: October 2012,.
Justice Illusive Justice: Tencam Press Douala Cameroon.2012
Africa Hopes and Aspirations Crucified: Tencam Press Douala Cameroon 1997
For Dame Lynda Chalker and Cameroonian Anglophone Notes: Iduma Press Aba Nigeria 1996
In Search of Cameroonian Revolution, African Press Ibadan Nigeria: 1997
Chief Charles A. Taku
President of the International Criminal Court Bar Association (ICCBA), Trustee and member for life of the Executive Governing Council of the African Bar Association (AfBA)