India and US to Simplify Antiquities Return Process with Cultural Property Agreement

India is on the verge of finalizing an agreement with the United States that simplifies the process for the return of stolen antiquities. The proposed Cultural Property Agreement (CPA) will shift the burden of proof from India to the US, automatically facilitating the return of items without India having to prove ownership. The CPA is expected to be implemented from the fiscal year 2025-26. The move aims to streamline the repatriation process and expedite the return of smuggled cultural property.

Bilateral Cooperation and Historical Context

The agreement signifies bilateral cooperation between India and the US in addressing the issue of stolen antiquities. Discussions on the CPA gained momentum during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the US in June 2022. India has been actively seeking the return of its heritage and cultural artifacts, and the CPA is viewed as a significant step in simplifying the repatriation process.

US Response and Diplomatic Collaboration

The US Embassy in New Delhi expressed eagerness to conclude the bilateral CPA, highlighting the shared priorities of both countries in protecting and returning cultural property. The protection and return of cultural property are emphasized as priorities for both India and the US. The collaborative efforts between the Ministry of Culture and the Indian Embassy in Washington over the past two years have paved the way for the CPA.

Implementation Details and Expected Impact

The proposed CPA is expected to come into effect in the next few months, streamlining the repatriation process by intercepting smuggled goods at the US border and facilitating their expeditious return. The agreement is designed to prevent illegal trafficking of cultural property from India to the US and aligns with broader objectives such as promoting a circular economy and contributing to the target of net-zero emissions.

Potential for Further Agreements

Buoyed by progress with the US, India is exploring similar agreements with other countries where Indian art objects are believed to have been smuggled. The CPA model seeks to impose import restrictions to prevent the entry of looted and stolen cultural property into the US while encouraging legal sharing of such objects for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes.

Simplified Repatriation Process and Future Prospects

The CPA’s key feature is the simplified process for returning objects to the partner country. Once objects are seized and forfeited under import restrictions created by the CPAs, the partner country does not have to prove ownership. The US automatically offers the objects for return. This streamlined approach is expected to expedite the return of antiquities and contribute to the broader goal of preserving and repatriating cultural heritage.



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