The UK National Committee for the Blue Shield is the British arm of the Blue Shield family. It is an entirely voluntary organisation made up primarily of cultural heritage experts who are keen to do all in their power to mitigate damage to the cultural heritage during and after conflicts and natural disasters. The Committee is overseen by a Board made-up of cultural heritage experts and a number of observers.
Unfortunately, the UK remains the only Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council, and arguably the most significant military power (and the only one with extensive military involvements abroad), not to have ratified the 1954 Hague Convention. Convincing the UK Government to ratify the 1954 Convention and its two Protocols is therefore our primary mission.
The Blue Shield emblem was created following the devastating damage to, and destruction of, the cultural heritage of Europe and the Far East during the Second World War. The emblem is recognised in the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. The 1954 Convention, together with its two Protocols of 1954 and 1999, remain the primary international humanitarian law concerning the protection of cultural heritage during conflict. The Blue Shield is acknowledged as the distinctive emblem identifying and protecting immovable cultural property protected under the Convention, vehicles being used for the transport of cultural property, and people involved in the protection of cultural property.
In addition to the threats caused by natural disasters, cultural heritage tends to be destroyed and/or damaged during conflict for six reasons:
- By being regarded as unimportant during operational planning
- By being regarded as ‘spoils of war’
- As ‘collateral damage’
- Through military mistake and lack of awareness
- Through looting
- As the result of specific targeting by a belligerent force.
The Blue Shield tries to address all of these by working with politicians, the military and emergency organisations, agencies, and NGOs. We concentrate on:
- Lobbying politicians and other decision-makers on the importance of the cultural heritage not only as an integral and vital part of the human story but as a potentially key element of post-conflict / disaster reconstruction, peace-building, and economic stability;
- The production of lists of cultural heritage sites that should be protected if at all possible. These lists are submitted to appropriate military organisations involved in conflicts and have been transferred to their ‘no-strike’ list of places to be protected during conflict such as hospitals, religious buildings, and educational establishments;
- Liaising with the military and other relevant organisations to encourage them to develop specific policy and doctrine regarding the protection of cultural property whenever troops are deployed;
- The training of military personnel on the importance of protecting the cultural heritage;
- Where possible supporting colleagues in conflict zones to protect the cultural heritage under their care;
- Carrying out during- and post- conflict/disaster missions to ascertain damage to the cultural heritage and collect evidence of such damage;
- The development of policy and academic research into the reasons behind, and opportunities to mitigate, the destruction of cultural property during conflict.
As many of the concrete actions cultural heritage experts can take regarding the protection of cultural heritage during and following conflict are very similar to those following natural disaster, many of our national committees also work on issues relating to natural disasters.