The Hague Convention: 50 Years of Protecting Cultural Property During Armed ConflictA commemorative symposium on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict will be held at UNESCO Headquarters on Friday, May 14 (9.30 a.m.– 6.45 p.m., Room X).
The meeting will be opened by UNESCO Director-General Koļchiro Matsuura, and attended by some of the world’s leading experts in international humanitarian and cultural heritage protection law, including Adriaan Bos and Frits Kalshoven (Netherlands), Jiřķ Toman (Switzerland/Czech Republic), and Theodor Meron (USA/Israel).
The Convention and its First Protocol were adopted on May 14, 1954, at The Hague (Netherlands) in the wake of massive destruction of cultural heritage in the Second World War. It was the first international treaty to focus exclusively on the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict. It covers immovable and movable cultural property including: monuments of architecture, art or history; archaeological sites, works of art, manuscripts, books and other objects of artistic, historical or archaeological interest, as well as scientific collections of all kinds regardless of their origins or ownership.
The First Protocol, specific to movable cultural property and the issue of restitution, prohibits the export of such property from an occupied territory and requires its return to the territory of the State from which the property was exported. This Protocol also prohibits the retention of cultural property as war reparations.
The Second Protocol, which was adopted in 1999 and entered into force on March 9 this year, reinforces the Convention by reaffirming the “immunity” of cultural property in times of war or occupation, and establishing the “individual criminal responsibility” of perpetrators of crimes against cultural property. It also limits the notion of “imperative military necessity”, which authorizes waivers regarding cultural property. Finally, it provides for the creation of an Intergovernmental Committee of 12 States Parties that will essentially be responsible for monitoring the 1999 Protocol, granting “enhanced protection” and providing international assistance.
Since its adoption, 109 States have become party to the 1954 Convention. To date, 88 of them have joined the First Protocol, and 22 have joined the Second Protocol.
As part of its role as depositary of the Convention, UNESCO also promotes and supervises its implementation. Activities include: training seminars for military and law enforcement officers, civil servants from foreign and cultural affairs ministries, lawmakers, members of NGOs and scholars; the publication of materials to raise awareness about the Convention; and expert advice to Member States drafting national legislation for the protection of cultural property.
“Modern warfare has become much more systematically destructive of not only human life but also its material context,” said the Director-General. “A terrible capacity has been developed to obliterate the very conditions, institutions and infrastructure that support human society and culture. While this may be aimed primarily at destroying the material ability to wage war and to defend oneself, it may also include a desire to destroy all forms of cultural identity, all bases of resistance, all symbols of collective memory.”
“As a result,” Mr Matsuura added, “the victims of modern warfare are not confined to the present generation but include past and future generations too. This is why the protection of cultural property during armed conflict is so necessary and why internationally validated norms and procedures are needed. The Hague Convention and its Protocols are important for these reasons.”
The Commemorative Symposium will be divided into three sessions. The first (10 a.m.- 12.30 p.m.) will examine the legal framework for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict. The second (2.15 p.m. – 3.30 p.m.) will discuss the development of legal protection of cultural property in the event of armed confict. Finally, the third session (3.30 p.m. – 6.45 p.m.) will address institutional questions concerning cultural heritage protection, including the role of the International Committee of the Red Cross and non-governmental organizations.