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Presentation of the official delegation of the Netherlands at the Vilnius Forum 3-5 October 2000

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Title
Presentation of the official delegation of the Netherlands at the Vilnius Forum

Speaker
Frank Majoor, Secretary General of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Date
3-5 October 2000

Description
The Netherlands sent an official delegation led by Frank Majoor to the Vilnius International Forum on Holocaust-Era Looted Assets who gave the presentation set out below.

All countries present at the Forum agreed the Final Declaration.

Presentation
More than fifty-five years after the end of the Second World War, the consequences of it still remain of major concern internationally and to Dutch society. The Conferences in London and Washington, and the Stockholm Forum have contributed immensely to the raising of the public awareness of the flaws of the past-war restitution process and to some correction of our self-image on this point.

The investigations into the looting and the post war restitution of financial assets and property, carried out at the request of the government by five independent committees are an expression of this. The resulting reports particularly criticized the formal, bureaucratic and unfeeling character of the post-war restitution process.

In response to the results of these investigations and the recommendations made, the government recognized the moral claims of the Jewish community and paid 400 million guilders to the Jewish community. Another 364 million guilders was provided by insurers, bankers and stockbrokers in compensation. The funds will be distributed from the end of this year onward. These amounts for individuals and for community projects cannot however make up for the loss of lives, the loss of property or the loss of dignity.

The subject of this Forum is Holocaust Era Looted Cultural Assets.

I would like to give to you an insight in how we try to deal with looted art in the Netherlands.

Before I come to what the Netherlands government is currently doing, I would like to point to an initiative taken by a number of Dutch museum directors. They set up the Committee on Museums Acquisitions 1940 - 1948, which is chaired by the director of the "Rijksmuseum" in Amsterdam. The aim of the committee is to look into the provenance of objects acquired by Dutch museums during the period in question. The inquiry is done under the auspices of the Netherlands Museums Association. The first results have been published in January 2000, and the work is still ongoing.

The Committee has also drawn up guidelines indicating how museums should act in the event of a claim or doubts about the provenance of objects in their possession.

The Netherlands government has established a committee in October 1997 to examine the provenance of cultural goods which came into the custody of the state as a consequence of World War II, the Ekkart Committee. The aim of this committee is to establish whether so far unidentified ownership of such cultural goods can be traced by applying present-day methods and technologies.

First, a pilot study was conducted into the provenance of part of these objects. In April 1998, the Ekkart Committee issued the results of the pilot study.

These results led to the commissioning of a wider investigation covering the entire collection of recovered art in the custody of the state, numbering some 4000 items. To conduct this, a special 'Origins Unknown' Project Office has been set up under the auspices of the Cultural Heritage Inspectorate of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and supervised by the Ekkart Committee. The Ekkart committee aims to complete its work in September 2002. A first interim report was published on 14 October 1999. A second one is scheduled to appear this year. The reports will soon be published on the Internet in Dutch and English.

In all cases where the Ekkart Committee recommends supplementary research, the Culture Heritage Inspectorate institutes further investigations.

I wish to emphasise that the Inspectorate immediately takes action and does not await the final report of the Ekkart Committee. For individuals wanting information or claiming rights there is no need to await the Committee's final results either. They can contact the Cultural Heritage Inspectorate as soon as they find reason to do so.

The Secretary of State for Culture decides upon claims for the restitution of objects. Based on national and international developments, the government thought it necessary to issue a memorandum stating our policy with respect to the restitution of cultural goods. This was done in an effort to provide clarity and transparency on both restitution policy and procedure. The state will examine individual claims by the original owners or their heirs deriving from the initial post-war restitution process: if it is a new application, in other words an application which has not been previously decided upon, or if it is an application already decided upon under the post-war restitution of rights process, where new information has since come to light.

In such cases, the limitation period will not be invoked.

This policy -of course- in no way prejudges the results of the Ekkart Committee. In the light of the Ekkart Committee's findings, the government will consider whether the rules now formulated permit to respond appropriately to the conclusions and recommendations of the committee. If necessary, the present policy on applications for the restitution of cultural goods will be reviewed in the light of the committee's findings or in the light of international developments.

The Netherlands government tries to provide as much information as possible about the provenance of works of art in its possession and the possibilities for restitution. We therefore strongly support the open and international approach, and particularly this Forum. We welcome very much the exchange of information, here in Vilnius, and the chance to learn from each other's experiences.

We are grateful to our host, the Government of Lithuania, and to the Council of Europe to provide us with this opportunity.

Annex A:
The implementation in The Netherlands of the Washington Conference Principles On Nazi-Confiscated Art

Since the Washington Conference took place in December 1998 several important steps have been taken in The Netherlands with respect to issues related to the Holocaust Era.

In March of this year, most investigations carried out at the request of the government by independent committees into the fate of assets seized during World War II were completed and sent to Parliament, accompanied by a government response. In its response the government stresses that this chapter in our history can never be closed, and that looking back from today's perspective, with the knowledge now available, the government fully acknowledges that the procedures adopted were excessively formal, bureaucratic, and above all unfeeling. The government expresses its regret and apologises to those who suffered and recognises the mistakes and shortcomings that have been identified.

The independent Committee that was set up by the government to conduct inquiries into the provenance of art objects which came into the possession of the state as a consequence of World War II, the Ekkart Committee, has still to complete its work. After a pilot study that was completed in 1997, a wider investigation, covering the approx. 4000 objects recovered from Germany which are still in the custody of the state, has started. Most of these paintings, sculptures and other cultural goods have been catalogued and are identifiable by catalogue numbers beginning with the letters "NK" ("Nederlands Kunstbezit"). Therefore, the collection is called the NK-collection.

A special project office, called Origins Unknown, was created for this investigation, where nine people are working part-time (adding up to more than four on a fulltime basis). The Committee is aiming at finishing its work in September 2002. In the meantime interim reports are being published. A first one was issued in October 1999. A second one is due this year. The reports will soon be published on the Internet in Dutch and English.

In all cases were the investigation reveals that third parties may have previously unasserted claims to these objects in the custody of the state, the Cultural Heritage Inspectorate institutes further inquiries. The Inspectorate does not wait until the Ekkart Committee has delivered its final report and has so far currently investigated five cases which have so led to six claims for the return of objets. Two applications have been decided in favour of the applicants, two were rejected. Two cases are pending before the Secretary of State for Culture.

In order to create as much openness and clarity towards individuals who claim to have legal rights to cultural goods in possession of the state, the government decided to issue a memorandum stating its policy with respect to the restitution of cultural goods. This memorandum was sent to parliament in July 2000. The gist of the Dutch policy is that it is still possible for any title-holder to submit requests for restitution. No limitation period will be invoked if it concerns:
-a new application, in other words an application which has not been previously decided upon or
-applications already decided under the post-war restitution of rights process but in relation to which genuinely new information has since come to light.

The government memorandum in no way intends to prejudge the final report and recommendations of the Ekkart Committee. It expressly states that, if necessary, the present policy concerning restitution of cultural goods will be reviewed in the light of the committee's findings. The same is stated with respect to international discussions dealing with art objects displaced during World War II. The further course of those discussions will continue to play a role in the evolution of Dutch policies in the area.

In The Netherlands access to public archives is a matter dealt with in two separate legal acts. The applicable legal regime depends on where the archives are located.

Archives remain at their place of origin for 20 years. During that period the Government Public Access Act applies. The act allows for anyone to consult the archives unless one of the legal exceptions applies: Access can be restricted on the ground of absolute or relative exceptions. When the absolute exceptions, safety of the state and the unity of the Crown, are at stake, access to information is denied. The relative exceptions require a balance of interests: the provision of information on the one hand and other interests such as good relations with other states or international organisations, safeguarding personal privacy or prevention of unreasonable harm or benefit to a natural person or corporate body on the other hand.

A decision on the request for access to an archive is a decision that can be challenged before court. Therefore, in the end it is the independent judge that decides whether the decision of the Public Administration to refuse access was a fair and reasonable one and was according to the Public Access Act.

After 20 years almost all government records are to be transferred to the Dutch State Archives. From that moment on, they are considered public records to which the Public Records Act applies. Unless other arrangements were made at the time of their transfer, government records are essentially public records. Access can only be restricted on the basis of exceptions similar to the ones mentioned above. These restrictions can apply for 75 years.

The Dutch State Archives also acquires private archives. In principle, restrictions on access to those archives are unlimited.

In practise all this means that researchers can gain access to archives if they bind themselves to secrecy with respect to information concerning individuals still alive. Research into the archives of a particular individual can only be conducted with the express consent of the person involved. Anyone who wants to gain access to Public Records and is refused the access can go to court to challenge the Public Administrations decision.

Annex B:
Reports and Websites

Reports:
Origins Unknown: Report on the pilot study into the provenance of works of art recovered from Germany and currently under the custodianship of the State of the Netherlands (published by the Ekkart Committee, April 1998; ISBN 90 346 35635).

Websites:
Netherlands Museums Association: http://www.museumvereniging.nl/

General State Archives: http://www.en.nationaalarchief.nl/default.asp

Ministry of Finance (This website has a page in English dedicated to World War II Assets and references to all important policy documents): http://www.minfin.nl/

Ministry of Foreign Affairs: http://www.minbuza.nl

Ministry of Education, Culture and Science: http://www.minocw.nl

Central Jewish Council: http://www.cjo.nl

Centre for Information and Documentation Israel: http://www.cidi.nl

Netherlands Institute for War Documentation: http://www.niod.nl/

Source
Vilnius International Forum on Holocaust-Era Looted Assets Website, accessed 27 November 2002.  The website no longer exists (20 July 2007).

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