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)

Provenance research is not an end in itself, but always leads in the end to the question of how to deal in the future with objects of clarified or – much more frequently – no longer sufficiently ascertainable colonial provenance history. In the search for consistent answers to this question, norms play a central role. They range from legally enforceable norms (hard law), which are still the exception in the field of decolonisation, to norms whose socio-political effectiveness is based on the collective self-commitment of the actors concerned, for example through resolutions and guidelines (soft law), to ethical norms of behaviour by which each individual is guided individually or group-specifically.
A fundamental problem, however, is still a largely missing interculturality of most – also international – norms, procedures and negotiation processes between the representatives of owning institutions in Europe and those of the societies of origin. Their indigenous legal thinking and their ethical norm systems in the present and in history have been largely ignored so far. In addition, the negotiation processes, which are only now slowly beginning on a broad front on a legal, political and civil society level with a delay of over a hundred years, pose another problem: in the societies of origin, the question of their historically, politically and legally legitimate representation in dialogue with the descendants of the European colonisers is becoming increasingly controversial. These and other questions can only be adequately discussed in intercultural dialogue.
Based on selected different cases from collections of colonial provenance, the panel will subject the existing systems of norms as well as legal and non-legal procedural solutions practised to date to a critical intercultural review. On this basis, possible options for action ranging from the permanent return to the permanent whereabouts of the objects will be discussed together in a second step. In a third step, options for action that are not only generalisable from a European point of view, but also include deviating indigenous norms of law, religion and culture, can lead to recommendations for further development of existing hard and soft law in the area of tension between law and intercultural justice.

Chair: Christoph-Eric Mecke, Leibniz-University Hanover