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HomeNewsUNESCO Orders UK to Return Broken Hill Man Skull to Zambia

UNESCO Orders UK to Return Broken Hill Man Skull to Zambia

By Felix Katyetye

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has passed a landmark resolution instructing the United Kingdom to return the Broken Hill Man Skull to Zambia.

In a statement Ms Naomi Mweemba first secretary press at the Zambian embassy in Paris said the resolution was adopted during the 24th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP), held from May 29 to 31, 2024, in Paris, France.

Ms Mweemba said the decision marked a significant milestone in the ongoing efforts to repatriate the skull, which has seen 52 years of stalled negotiations.

“The resolution mandates that Zambia and the UK develop a roadmap for the skull’s return, to be presented at the 25th session of the committee. During the session, the proposal put forward by Ambassador Lazarous Kapambwe, Zambia’s Special Envoy to the President and Chief Negotiator, received overwhelming support from committee members,” she added.

Ms Mweemba further said Ambassador Kapambwe, alongside Mr. George Mudenda, Director General of Zambia’s National Museums Board, emphasized the skull’s spiritual and cultural significance to Zambia, highlighting its vital connection to the country’s heritage and identity.

In contrast, the UK’s counterproposal did not include provisions for the skull’s return, leading to a deadlock. Ms. Polly Payne, Director General of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport, argued that agreeing to a roadmap would be in bad faith.

“Ambassador Kapambwe reiterated the ancestral importance of the Broken Hill Man Skull, calling for its return to Zambia to honor the customs and spiritual beliefs of the Zambian people. His sentiments were echoed by Hon. Chrizoster Phiri, Kabwe Central Member of Parliament, who stressed the deep spiritual connection of the skull to Zambia’s ancestors,” She said.

She adds that Dr. Samson Kantini, Senior Programme Officer for Culture at the Zambia National Commission for UNESCO, welcomed the resolution as a progressive step towards concluding the long-standing negotiations. He praised the leadership of Ambassador Kapambwe and the support from Zambia’s Permanent Delegation to UNESCO, led by Ambassador Judith Mulenga.

The Broken Hill Man Skull was discovered on June 17, 1921, in Kabwe, Zambia, by an African miner and Tom Zwigglar, a Swiss miner. It was subsequently taken to the UK for study and donated to the Natural History Museum in London. Zambia initiated negotiations for its return in 1972 and, in 2018, brought the case before the ICPRCP to seek international support.

“The latest resolution represents a crucial advancement in the efforts to return the Broken Hill Man Skull to its rightful place, underscoring the ongoing global dialogue on the restitution of cultural heritage,” She said.

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