France, Australia to help bring home Aboriginal remains

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island dancers perform at the welcome ceremony for the leaders attending the G-20 Summit in Brisbane on Nov 15, 2014. France and Australia agreed on Wednesday, Nov 19, to work together to help repatriate the remains
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island dancers perform at the welcome ceremony for the leaders attending the G-20 Summit in Brisbane on Nov 15, 2014. France and Australia agreed on Wednesday, Nov 19, to work together to help repatriate the remains of Aboriginal people held in French public collections. -- PHOTO: AFP

CANBERRA (AFP) - France and Australia agreed Wednesday to work together to help repatriate the remains of Aboriginal people held in French public collections.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and French President Francois Hollande said their nations would open a consultation on how to return the human remains.

The process would "respect the sensitivities and values of the two countries and consider the requests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities as well as the specific framework of the French legal system," they said in a joint statement.

Canberra believes the remains of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are being held in collections around the world, particularly in Europe and the United States.

Aboriginal leaders regard the removal of the remains as an insult to their culture and have campaigned for years to have them returned.

Abbott and Hollande, on the first official visit by a French head of state to Australia, said the process would include setting up a joint expert committee to help identify the origin of indigenous remains held in France.

"The aim of the committee will be to propose and determine research aimed at identifying the origin of these human remains," they said in a joint statement.

"The French government will then examine possible solutions to enable the return of the human remains in question to their communities of origin." In 2011, the British Museum agreed to return 138 sets of skeletal remains of indigenous people to Australia in what it hailed as a new approach to the delicate subject of repatriation.