Bern: Switzerland, on the 6th of February, 2024, a momentous cultural event took place as Mr In Dara, Cambodia's Ambassador to Switzerland and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and International Organizations in Geneva, led a significant restitution ceremony of a Buddha statue back to the Kingdom of Cambodia. The ceremony saw the participation of Mrs. Fabienne Baraga, Head of the Special Body for International Transfer of Cultural Property, Federal Office of Culture, and Mrs. Anna Mattei Russo, Head of the Regional Coordination Southeast Asia and Pacific, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, accompanied by officials and diplomats from both countries.
The returned Buddha statue, an emblem of Cambodia's rich artistic, historical, and religious legacy, is made of metal and measures 41.5 cm in length, 22.5 cm in depth, and 49 cm in height. While Swiss experts initially believed the statue could be from the pre-Angkor or early Angkor periods, over 1,000 years old, Cambodian cultural specialists from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts have identified it as an 18th or 19th-century piece depicting the Buddha overcoming the devil. This detailed examination highlighted the statue's authentic Khmer craftsmanship, affirming its invaluable artistic, historical, and religious significance that warrants its preservation as a national treasure.
This Buddha sculpture's repatriation followed its seizure by authorities in the Canton of Basel in 2014, after documents suggested it was part of Cambodia's cultural heritage. Swiss legislation necessitates that confiscated cultural assets be returned to their countries of origin, facilitating this meaningful restitution.
Ambassador Dara In expressed immense joy and appreciation for the statue's return after a long absence due to Cambodia's civil unrest and the perils of smuggling and trafficking. He extended his gratitude to the Swiss government, especially the Federal Office of Culture and the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Basel Canton, for their crucial support and collaboration in thwarting the smuggling of Cambodian cultural artifacts and ensuring their return.
Highlighting ongoing initiatives to recover stolen cultural items, Ambassador Dara urged global museums, institutions, and curators of Khmer artifacts to proactively return Cambodian cultural items of significance. He emphasized that such repatriations are acts of ethical respect that contribute significantly to the cultural restoration and emotional healing of the Cambodian people, who have suffered from prolonged civil conflict.
Mrs. Fabienne Baraga reinforced this message, affirming Switzerland's commitment to preventing the illicit trafficking and illegal trading of cultural properties and to preserving the cultural heritage of mankind. She described the restitution as not only a return of a cherished object but also a symbol of the solidarity and respect shared between Switzerland and Cambodia, highlighting the role of cultural diplomacy in fostering global understanding and cooperation.