Temple ruins at Hatra, Iraq circa 1988. © http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Victrav

UK plans to ratify Hague Convention

Patrick Steel, 22.06.2015
Government to introduce legislation for 1954 convention
The UK government is planning to bring forward new legislation to ratify the Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict “at the first opportunity”, culture secretary John Whittingdale announced yesterday.

The 1954 convention is designed to protect cultural property and cultural institutions in armed conflicts between states or between parties of the same state as long as they are not put to military purposes.

Over 115 states have ratified the convention, including the US, which signed up in 2009. The UK government declared in 2004 that it would ratify the convention and its protocols but despite the relevant legislation being tabled in 2008 it did not progress through parliament.

Sharon Heal, the director of the Museums Association (MA), said the MA would welcome ratification of the convention, and urged ministers to make the parliamentary time to pass the necessary legislation. “The destruction of the world's cultural heritage continues apace and it would be an important signifier of the UK's commitment to protecting our shared past to sign the convention,” she said.

But Peter Stone, the chairman of the UK National Committee of the Blue Shield, said that there is still no clear timeframe for ratification and there was no mention in Whittingdale’s announcement of the two protocols to the convention.

Whittingdale also announced the development of a cultural protection fund to support the protection of cultural heritage and the recovery from acts of destruction. “Through this fund, we hope to help safeguard the heritage of countries affected by conflict or at risk of coming under attack for ideological reasons,” he said.

Details of the fund will be revealed at a summit organised by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport this summer, which will be attended by government officials, cultural leaders from the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and British Council, and organisations including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, and the Red Cross.

Whittingdale said: “While the UK’s priority will continue to be the human cost of these horrific conflicts, I am in no doubt that the UK must also do what we can to prevent any further cultural destruction.”

“The loss of a country's heritage threatens its very identity. The knowledge and expertise of the experts in our cultural institutions makes us uniquely qualified to help.

“I believe that the UK therefore has a vital responsibility to support cultural protection overseas and recent events have confirmed the urgency of this.”

The full extent of damage to sites in the middle east occupied by Islamic State (IS) is unknown, but reports from Iraq point to the destruction of artefacts in the Mosul Museum and the bulldozing and looting of the historic sites of Nimrud and Hatra. More recent unverified reports suggest that IS has planted mines in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra.