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The Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill [HL] 2016-17 was introduced in the House of Commons on 13 September 2016. It is due to have second reading on 31 October 2016.

The Bill would introduce the necessary domestic legislation to enable the UK to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and accede to its two Protocols.

The Bill, Explanatory Notes, and an Impact Assessment are available from the parliamentary website.

What is the 1954 Hague Convention?

The 1954 Convention is one of the series of international treaties on the law of war created in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Though it was not the first or only convention concerning cultural property in wartime, it was the first world-wide international treaty exclusively on protecting cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict. It reflects a view that all cultural property is part of ‘the cultural heritage of all mankind’, and so must be protected.

The Convention and its two Protocols provide a system for protecting important cultural property in peacetime and during armed conflict (though with a waiver for ‘imperative military necessity’), and a requirement to establish domestic criminal jurisdiction over cultural property offences.

The Convention entered into force in 1956 and has now been ratified by 127 states.

UK policy on ratifying the Convention and its two Protocols

The UK signed the Convention in December 1954 and has been publicly committed to ratifying it since 2004.

In January 2008, the Labour Government published a draft Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill but no further progress was made on ratification.

What would the Bill do?

The current Bill would:

  • create offences to protect cultural property (as defined by the Convention) in the event of armed conflict
  • create offences relating to the unauthorised use of the “Blue Shield” – the emblem used to identify cultural property protected under the Convention and its Protocols
  • make it an offence to deal in cultural property illegally exported from occupied territory
  • introduce immunity from seizure for cultural property which is being transported to, or through, the UK for safekeeping

The Bill would extend to the whole of the UK.

The Bill was originally introduced in the House of Lords on 19 May 2016 where it received cross party support. However concerns were raised in a number of areas including:

  • the maximum penalty of 30 years’ imprisonment for ancillary offences relating to cultural property
  • the clause on immunity from seizure for cultural property in the UK
  • the status of “embedded” military personnel (i.e. military personnel operating under the command of another country) 

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