Coalition forces were criticised for failing to prevent the destruction of cultural heritage during the 2003 invasion of Iraq

UK government under pressure to ratify Hague Convention

Patrick Steel, 01.05.2013
DCMS bidding for time in next parliamentary session
The UK government is coming under increasing pressure to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

At an event hosted by the British Institute of International and Comparative Law in London last week, archaeologists and lawyers discussed issues around the draft Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill, which was tabled in 2008.

The draft Bill, which would see the 1954 convention ratified in UK law, has still not progressed through parliament.

Peter Stone, professor of heritage studies at Newcastle University and chairman of the UK National Committee of the Blue Shield, told delegates that pressure was building on the government to ratify the convention.

Stone’s view is that the failure to ratify the convention has left the UK isolated internationally and at a significant disadvantage in its aspiration to be a global leader with regard to international humanitarian law, undermining the UK’s claim to be at the forefront of working for global security and peace.

Janet Ulph, a professor of commercial law at Leicester University, told delegates that the draft Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill was flawed, and it would be simpler to draft legislation which was concerned with caring for cultural heritage and the conduct of the military during conflict. The other concerns of the Hague Convention could be dealt with under existing law, she added.

Mark Taylor, the Museums Association’s director, said today: “Recent conflicts, particularly in Iraq, have shown how vulnerable cultural heritage can be in the time of war but how important it is to people’s identity and sense of history and place.

“Having supported the principle of the convention eight years ago it is such a shame that Department for Culture, Media and Sport has not managed to get it ratified. Most of our friends and allies have done, so it does not reflect well on us that we have let this slip.”

A DCMS spokesman said: “The government has been clear that the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict is a priority, and the former culture secretary signed a formal pledge to facilitate the UK’s ratification of the convention.

“We are committed to introducing legislation to do that as soon as parliamentary time allows, and are bidding for time in the next parliamentary session.”

Looting of antiquities in Syria

Ten years on from the looting of the National Museum of Iraq, which saw anecdotal evidence that the sale of antiquities was funding the insurgency, similar reports are emerging of the sale of antiquities in Syria to fund fighting.

Matthew Bogdanos, the US Marine Corps Reserves colonel who led the US investigation into the looting of the National Museum of Iraq in 2003, told the Museums Association: "One of the things that time has proven correct is that the lessons we learned early in Iraq are largely accurate.

"The link between the looting of cultural property and the funding of violence, we came across accidentally, but that hasn’t changed.

"That has reduced in Iraq due to an increased government presence. But the bad guys learned those lessons too, certainly in Syria, and I don’t think that surprises anyone.”