The Swiss government has formally returned a vintage Buddha statue to its rightful home in the Kingdom. The February 6 restitution ceremony took place in Bern, Switzerland.

This event was presided over by In Dara, Cambodian ambassador to Switzerland, and permanent representative to the UN and International Organizations in Geneva. 

Also in attendance were several high-level Swiss officials, including Fabienne Baraga, head of the Special Body for International Transfer of Cultural Property, and Anna Mattei Russo, head of Regional Coordination for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

The statue, crafted of metal, and approximately 50cm high, was described as embodying the rich artistic, historical, and religious heritage of Cambodia.

Dara welcomed the statue's return to Cambodia, noting that following years of displacement caused by prolonged civil conflict, there were many instances of artefacts being smuggled and trafficked abroad. 

“The joy of receiving the statue back into the care of the Kingdom is immeasurable,” he said.

While Swiss experts initially speculated that the statue may date back over a millennium to the pre-Angkorian or early Angkor periods, specialists from the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts analysed its form and style, concluding it likely originated from the 18th or 19th centuries. 

“Their meticulous assessment confirmed that the statue is an authentic Khmer art object of historical and religious significance, deserving of preservation as a national cultural treasure,” said a Cambodian embassy press release.

The journey of the sculpture to its rightful home began in 2014, when Swiss authorities confiscated it in the city of Basel. Documents suggested its ties to Cambodia's cultural heritage, which lead to its mandated return, under Swiss law.

Dara extended his heartfelt appreciation to the Swiss government, particularly the Federal Office of Culture and the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Basel, for their invaluable assistance and cooperation in preventing the illicit trafficking of this cultural artefact, and for facilitating its return.

“Cambodia is currently conducting research and gathering evidence of other significant cultural properties that were illegally taken from our nation. As part of this process, we are collaborating with the international community and relevant stakeholders,” he said.

He issued a call to all museums, institutions, and curators who are holding Khmer antiquities to voluntarily return any culturally significant items to Cambodia.

“The Cambodian government considers the repatriation of Khmer artefacts as a generous and respectful gesture, which reflects ethical conduct and consideration for the cultural values of other nations,” he said.

“In addition, it serves as a noble effort to reconcile and heal the emotional wounds of the Cambodian people, who endured a prolonged civil war,” he added.

Switzerland’s Baraga echoed his sentiment, reaffirming the Swiss government's commitment to preventing the illicit trafficking or trading of cultural properties, while honouring the shared cultural heritage of humanity. 

“This restitution is not just the return of a valuable object to its place of origin, it also symbolises the spirit of solidarity and respect between our two states,” she said.