The key treaty for cultural heritage protection is the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (the Hague Convention). In general, it deals with the protection of cultural heritage in armed conflict and occupation from damage and destruction and from all forms of misappropriation. It is the only international instrument aimed specifically at protecting cultural heritage during an armed conflict and occupation, and aimed to ensure that cultural property, both movable and immovable, was preserved and respected. It is supplemented by two Protocols – the First Protocol adopted in 1954 and the Second Protocol adopted in 1999.
The Hague Convention defines Cultural property as:
- movable or immovable property of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people, such as monuments of architecture, art or history, whether religious or secular; archaeological sites; groups of buildings which, as a whole, are of historical or artistic interest; works of art; manuscripts, books and other objects of artistic, historical or archaeological interest; as well as scientific collections and important collections of books or archives or of reproductions of the property defined above;
- buildings whose main and effective purpose is to preserve or exhibit the movable cultural property […] such as museums, large libraries and depositories of archives, and refuges intended to shelter, in the event of armed conflict, the movable cultural property […];
- centres containing a large amount of cultural property […] to be known as `centres containing monuments’.
The Second Protocol (1999) strengthens several provisions of the Convention and its First Protocol concerning the safeguarding of and the respect for cultural heritage and the conduct during hostilities. It gives “enhanced protection” for cultural property of the greatest importance for humanity adding to the earlier categories of “general protection” and “special protection”. This new category is protected by adequate domestic legal and administrative measures. It recognizes property of exceptional cultural and historic value, ensures the highest level of protection for them and forbids their use for military purposes or to shield military sites. It also directly defines the sanctions due in the event that serious violations are committed against cultural property, and the conditions under which individual criminal responsibility applies.
During peace, the States that are party to the Convention and the two Protocols should:
- prepare for the safeguarding of cultural property situated within their own territory, including preparation of inventories; the planning of emergency measures for protection against fire or structural collapse; the preparation for the removal of movable cultural property or the provision for adequate in situ protection of such property; and the designation of competent authorities responsible for the safeguarding of cultural property.
- consider placing the most important immovable cultural properties on the “International Register of Cultural Property under Special Protection” meriting “enhanced protection” as per the Second Protocol, assuming it meets the Convention conditions.
- consider the use of the distinctive Blue Shield emblem to facilitate identification of cultural property.
- plan or establish services or specialist personnel within their armed forces whose purpose will be to secure respect for cultural property and to co-operate with the civilian authorities.
- remove, as far as possible, movable cultural property from the vicinity of military objectives, and avoid locating military objectives near cultural property.
During armed conflict, the States that are party to the Convention and the two Protocols should:
- respect cultural property situated within their own territory and the respective territories of other Parties by refraining from directing any act of hostility directed against such property.
- protect cultural property situated in occupied territory and, particularly, as far as possible, take the necessary measures for its preservation, including prohibiting and preventing all theft, pillage, illicit export, removal or transfer of cultural property as well as any misappropriation or acts of vandalism directed against cultural property.
- refrain from directing any act of reprisals against cultural property.
- take all necessary steps to prosecute and impose penal or disciplinary sanctions upon those persons who commit or order to be committed a breach of the Convention.
After the Hostilities, signatory States will:
- at the close of hostilities, return exported cultural property which is in its territory to the competent authorities of the territory previously occupied.
- prohibit the retention of cultural property as war reparations.
The Hague Convention and its 1999 Protocol clearly define under which circumstances their provisions are violated. The Second Protocol defines five intentional acts that are considered as serious violations and entail individual criminal responsibility:
Regarding cultural property under enhanced protection
1) making cultural property under enhanced protection the object of attack, i.e. your responsibility in attack
2) using cultural property under enhanced protection or its immediate surroundings in support of military action, i.e. your responsibility in defence.
Regarding all cultural property
3) extensive destruction or appropriation of cultural property
4) making cultural property the object of attack
5) theft, pillage or misappropriation of, acts of vandalism directed against cultural property
In the Hague Convention the use of cultural property for military purposes is prohibited. However, properties may be used for military purposes, if it is a “military necessity”. The Second Protocol defines conditions when the waiver of “military necessity” may be applied, which include:
Imperative military necessity in respect of cultural property under general protection
- Measures undertaken by a military commander to direct an act of hostility against cultural property when and for as long as that cultural property has, by its function, been made into a military objective.
- No other feasible alternative to obtain a similar military advantage to that offered by directing an act of hostility against that objective.
- Measures taking by the defender using cultural property for purposes likely to expose it to destruction or damage when and for as long as no choice is possible between such use of the cultural property and another feasible method for obtaining a similar military advantage.
- Imperative military necessity may be established only by the officer commanding a force the equivalent to a battalion unless the circumstances of the military engagement do not allow this.
- In case of an attack, an effective warning shall be given whenever circumstances permit.
Military necessity in respect of cultural property under enhanced protection
- Cultural property under enhanced protection shall only lose such protection if it is suspended or cancelled (if it no longer meets the criteria for registration), or it has become a military objective. It may only become a military objective if:
- the attack is the only feasible means of terminating the use of the property.
- all feasible precautions are taken in the choice of means and methods of attack, with a view to terminating such use and avoiding, or in any event minimising, damage to the cultural property.
- unless circumstances do not permit, due to requirements of immediate self-defence:
- The attack is ordered at the highest operational level of command.
- Effective advance warning is issued to the opposing forces requiring the termination of the use.
- Reasonable time is given to the opposing forces to redress the situation.
The Blue Shield
In order to recognise cultural property, the Hague Convention provides a distinctive emblem, commonly called the “Blue Shield”, which may be displayed. The Hague Convention prohibits the use of the emblem in any other cases than those mentioned in the Convention as well as the use of any other sign resembling the distinctive sign of the Convention for any other purpose.
The emblem should be used in single form:
- to mark cultural property under general protection ( this is optional)
- as a means to identify persons responsible for the duties of control in accordance with the Regulations stated in the Hague Convention
- as a means to identify personnel engaged in the protection of cultural property
- to mark identity cards mentioned in the Regulations stated in the Hague Convention
It should be repeated three times in a triangular formation for sites needing “special protection”: this is obligatory for State Parties. There is no specific emblem for “enhanced protection”. The Hague Convention provides specifications for an identity card held by the caregiver. It bears the distinctive emblem, the stamp of the national authority, and the caregiver’s photo, signature and/or fingerprints, and the relevant data.
Blue Shield Emblem – General Protection
Blue Shield Emblem – Special Protection
Under the umbrella of the protective Hague Convention emblem the Blue Shield network unites several organizations dealing with museums, archives, audio-visual supports, libraries, monuments and sites. It is the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross. The objective is to protect, safeguard, secure and preserve cultural heritage in times of emergencies, including armed conflict. To this end a number of National Blue Shield Committees have been founded in a number of countries. The International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS), founded in 1996, brings together the knowledge, experience and international networks of expert organisations dealing with cultural heritage. The Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield (ANCBS), founded in December 2008, is the coordinating body and strengthens the international efforts to protect cultural property at risk of destruction in armed conflicts or natural disasters.
State Party Signatories
Once a State Party has signed the Hague Convention, they must ratify it in order for it to become legally binding. That is, they must introduce legislation, which will incorporate the provisions into the legal framework of their own country. However, signing the Hague Convention does not automatically guarantee that State Parties will ratify it. Each Protocol must also be signed and ratified. It is no longer possible to become a signatory to the Convention but countries can still adopt the provisions laid out in it at any time (called Accession).
– To see the full text and articles of the Hague Convention (1954), click here.
– To see a list of which countries have signed and / or ratified the Hague Convention (1954), click here.
– To see the full text and articles of the First Protocol (1954), click here.
– To see a list of which countries have signed and / or ratified the First Protocol (1954), click here.
– To see the full text and articles of the Second Protocol (1999), click here.
– To see a list of which countries have signed and / or ratified the Second Protocol (1999), click here.
– To visit the website of the International Committee of the Blue Shield, click here.
– To visit the website of the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, click here.