The UK National Committee of the Blue Shield (UKBS), the British wing of a global organisation frequently referred to as the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross, is leading a nationwide campaign to get the UK Government to finally ratify the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two protocols of 1954 and 1999. Professor Peter Stone OBE, Chair of the UKBS, said:
The 1954 Hague Convention is the primary piece of International Humanitarian Law concerning the protection of heritage during armed conflict. While many in the UK have reacted with justifiable horror and indignation at the recent appalling destruction of ancient sites, libraries, archives, and museums in the Middle East and Africa, few seem to realise that the UK remains the only Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council, and arguably the most significant military power (and the only one with extensive military involvements abroad), not to have ratified the 1954 Hague Convention.
After the 2003 US/UK led invasion, the then Minister for Heritage, Andrew McIntosh, announced in 2004 the Government’s intention to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention as soon as Parliamentary business allowed. This claim has been repeated by every relevant Minister since. In November 2011, Jeremy Hunt, then Secretary of State at DCMS, made a joint UK Government and British Red Cross Society pledge “to make every effort to facilitate the UK’s ratification… and to promote understanding of the principles and rules of the Convention within the UK”. Ratification has cross-Party support and the support of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport; the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; the Department for Overseas Development; and the Ministry of Defence. Professor Eleanor Robson, Chair of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, added:
ISIS’ current rampage across northern Iraq and Syria is drawing urgent international attention to the plight of cultural heritage in times of war. By ratifying the 1954 Hague Convention, the UK Government would send a clear signal of its commitment to protecting civilian communities and their histories if it should ever intervene in this conflict or others, and provide the armed forces a clear mandate to do so.
For its campaign to be successful, the UKBS needs everybody who values cultural heritage in all its forms to write to their local MP urging them to pursue this matter. This can be done either by email or post. For those who would like guidance or some information to help them write their letter, a template (which can be adapted as necessary) and a fact sheet on the UKBS and the 1954 Hague Convention can be downloaded here and here. If anyone does not know the name of their MP or how to contact them, that can found here.
If you are still unsure of the need for the UK to ratify the 1954 Hague Convection, the UKBS ask that you please watch this three-minute film Protecting cultural property during war.
The UKBS is an entirely voluntary run organisation comprising academics and heritage professionals from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds. You can stay up-to-date with its work and the progress of its campaign by following it on Twitter and Facebook. If you require any further information or have any outstanding queries, please do not hesitate to contact Philip Deans, Campaign Assistant for the UKBS, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Finally, to help the UKBS keep track of the campaign, it is also asked that when anyone does write to their MP, would they please let the UKBS know using the email address supplied above.