The UK National Committee of the Blue Shield is very pleased to welcome the announcement made in the Queen’s Speech on 18th May 2016 that HM Government intends to table legislation which will result in the UK being able to accede to the 1954 Hague Convention of the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols of 1954 and 1999. The 1954 Hague Convention is the primary piece of International Humanitarian Law concerning the protection of cultural property during armed conflict. It was first adopted by countries following the massive destruction of cultural property during the Second World War and, since then, has provided a framework for the protection of cultural property from the effects of international and domestic armed conflict. Parties to the 1954 Hague Convention are required to respect cultural property situated within the territory of other Parties by not attacking it, and to respect cultural property within their own territory by not using it for purposes which will expose it to damage or ruin during armed conflict.
The Chair of the UK National Committee of the Blue Shield, Professor Peter Stone OBE, said of the announcement:
This is really excellent news – something we have been waiting for since 2003. By committing to ratify with a clear timetable the UK is finally on the verge of joining the international community in recognising the value and importance of cultural property to local, national, and international communities and their identities.
In echoing Professor Stone’s words, Karl Habsburg, the President of Blue Shield International, added that it was “A great day for the international community concerned with the protection of cultural property during conflict and as the result of natural disaster.”
In 2003, when Coalition forces invaded Iraq, neither the USA nor the UK had ratified the 1954 Hague Convention or its Protocols of 1954 or 1999. Subsequently, in 2009, the USA ratified the Convention, but not the Protocols. The UK is now arguably the most significant military power (and the only one with extensive military involvements abroad) not to have ratified the Convention. The MoD currently works “within the spirit of the Convention”. Despite constant public commitments to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention and both its Protocols, since 2003 successive UK governments have hitherto failed to find Parliamentary time to pass the necessary internal legislation to allow ratification. On hearing of the announcement, The Baroness Andrews OBE, who led the January debate in the House of Lords on ratification, stated:
I’m really delighted that the Government has finally committed to the ratification of The Hague Convention and its Protocols.” It’s been far too long in the coming and there was a lot of frustration in the recent House of Lords debate that we were almost alone in our failure to ratify.
“I look forward to working closely with the UK Armed Forces and others to ensure that whenever and wherever the UK deploys its personnel overseas that they are fully prepared to ensure cultural property can be protected”, commented Professor Stone.
The tabled Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech provides not only for the ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention and its two Protocols of 1954 and 1999; amongst other measures, it will finally criminalise the dealing of cultural property illegally exported from an occupied territory, and ensure that any and all cultural property protected under the Convention is identifiable by the distinctive Blue Shield emblem. It follows another announcement made in 2015 in which the UK Government established a Cultural Property Protection Fund.