The Minister spoke at the Symposium, 'Fair and just solutions? Alternatives to litigation in Nazi looted art disputes: status quo and new developments' as below:
• Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Hague and this majestic venue, the Peace Palace: as mighty and magnificent as the idea of world peace itself, to quote the words spoken at its opening in 1913. As the seat of the Permanent Court of Arbitration and the International Court of Justice of the United Nations, over the past almost one hundred years the Peace Palace has become an icon of peace and justice. This makes it the perfect venue for a symposium on injustice as a result of war. I cannot imagine a more suitable place to hold a symposium on the issue of art treasures looted by the Nazis in the second world war.
• This subject cannot be considered solely from a purely legal perspective. Restitution cases cannot be regarded outside the context of profound emotions and human drama. A large proportion of the hundreds of thousands of works of art ‘taken’ by the Nazis from the Netherlands, Belgium, France and other European countries came from the homes of Jewish families who had been transported. Most of the owners of this looted art did not survive the concentration camps. A cold reception and a looted home awaited those few who did return. And if, by some miracle, you had survived the camps, but your family had been murdered, you had other things on your mind than missing household effects and art works.
• Surviving children are often not exactly sure about what was in the home of their parents. But, if after many years something is returned, it signifies much more for the survivors than simply the restitution of a precious family piece. The return of looted art to the rightful heirs means for them a tangible memory of parents or grandparents whom they – in many cases - never or hardly knew. Restitution for them also feels like the fulfilment of a debt of honour. This makes the burden of responsibility of the work of the Restitutions Committee even heavier.
• This symposium has been organised to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Dutch Restitutions Committee. Congratulations on reaching this milestone, and for the excellent idea of marking it in this way. A first, because this is the only time that five European restitution committees have gathered together to share ideas and experiences.
• The Restitutions Committee was initially established to advise the government on claims to works in the national collection. The Committee has since made 114 recommendations, virtually all of which have been adopted. The large majority of these recommendations involve the national art collection known as the NK-collection [Nederlands Kunstbezit-collectie]. And what is specifically involved are works of art that disappeared into Germany during the occupation and were later restituted by the Allies to the Dutch government.
• Not only national governments are involved in disputes concerning Nazi looted art, but also numerous other parties as private owners, foundations and museums. Most of the advisory committees in other countries focus mainly on disputes involving state collections. When the Dutch Restitutions Committee was established, the government gave it a second duty: the independent settlement of disputes involving works of art owned by parties other than the government, including works outside national collections. The Restitutions Committee fulfils this task by providing binding expert opinions.
• To date, ten cases of this kind have been submitted to the Restitutions Committee. We expect this number to grow considerably over time. In 2009, the government took the initiative to carry out a museum survey focusing on acquisitions made by Dutch museums from 1932 onwards that may have an ‘unfair and unjust’ Nazi past.
• The Washington Principles of 1998, signed by 44 nations, constitute the guidelines for handling all claims. At that time, national governments played a leading role, but now, almost 15 years later, it is time for other parties to become involved – as is the case in the Netherlands.
Ladies and gentlemen,
• When I was State Secretary of Health, Welfare and Sport, from 2007 to 2009 I held the political responsibility for the care of victims of war. At that time, in the policy I implemented I tried to make clear that the government has an important duty in terms of dealing with debts of honour and shaping special solidarity. This is a task for the government, as is the duty to keep the memory of war alive. In my former position, I experienced at close hand how important it is to deal carefully with the legacy of the second world war, echoes of which still reverberate in our collective memory to this day. It is about recognising suffering and losses incurred.
• As the daughter of a father who was in a Japanese prisoner of war camp as a child, the war was a constant presence in my childhood too. So, I also feel personally involved in this subject. Naturally, my personal experiences do not determine my policy, but at the same time, I do not have to completely erase my personal motivation. I have always tried to strike a balance between distance and involvement. But, since involvement is not the same as acceding without question to the wishes of the parties concerned, I am very happy indeed with the independent recommendations of the Restitutions Committee.
• This symposium offers the opportunity to go more deeply into the complex matter of the settlement of disputes involving Nazi looted art. One of the subjects to be discussed is whether more international coordination is necessary in developing standards for the realisation of fair and just solutions; not only for governments but also – and especially – for other parties involved or market parties. I am curious about what the findings will be!
• I would like to wish you all a fruitful and constructive symposium. Let it be fair and just!
Thank you for your attention.
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