Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict

Hague Convention of 1954
Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict


The distinctive marking of cultural property under the convention (blue shield).
Signed 14 May 1954 (1954-05-14)
Location The Hague
Effective 7 August 1956 (1956-08-07)
Parties 126[1]
Depositary Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization[1]
Languages English, French, Russian and Spanish[1]

The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict is the first international treaty that focuses exclusively on the protection of cultural property in armed conflict. It was signed at The Hague, Netherlands on 14 May 1954 and entered into force on 7 August 1956. As of March 2016, it has been ratified by 127 states.[2]

The Hague Convention was adopted in the wake of the severe cultural destruction that occurred during the Second World War. Two Protocols to the Convention have been concluded. The First Protocol was introduced on 14 May 1954, and came into force on 7 August 1956. The Second Protocol was introduced on 26 March 1999, and came in force on 9 March 2004.

The Hague Convention covers immovable and movable cultural heritage including monuments, art, archaeological sites, scientific collections, manuscripts, books and other objects of artistic, historical or archaeological interest to ensure the cultural legacy and by extension the cultural property of nations, groups and distinct members of a society worldwide facing armed conflict.[3]

States parties

  Party to the treaty
  Signed but did not ratify

As of March 2016, 127 states are party to the treaty, while 4 others (Andorra, Ireland, Philippines and the United Kingdom) have signed, but not ratified. Currently, there are 104 States Parties to the First Protocol.[4] The Second Protocol has 68 States Parties.[5]

Cultural property

Cultural property is the expression of the cultural heritage of a group or a society. It is an expression of the ways of living developed by a community and passed on from generations, including customs, practices, places, objects, artistic expressions and values. The protection of the cultural property during times of armed conflict or occupation is of great importance because it reflects the life, history and identity of the community, therefore its preservation helps to rebuild a community, re-establish its identity, and link its past with its present and future. In addition, the cultural property of any people contributes to the cultural heritage of humankind, consequently, its loss or damage to such property impoverishes humankind as a whole.

The Hague Convention

Broadly, the Hague Convention requires that States Parties adopt protection measures during peacetime for the safeguarding of cultural property. Such measures include the preparation of inventories, preparation for the removal of movable cultural property and the designation of competent authorities responsible for the safeguarding of cultural property.

States Parties undertake to respect cultural property not only located within their own territory but also the territory of other States Parties. In doing so they accept to refrain from using the property and its immediate surroundings for purposes likely to expose it to destruction or damage in the event of armed conflict; as well as from refraining from any act of hostility directed against such property.

The Convention also requires the establishment of special units within the military forces to be responsible for the protection of cultural property; for States Parties to implement sanctions for breaches of the Convention; and to undertake promotion of the Convention to the general public, cultural heritage professionals, the military or law-enforcement agencies.

The most successful implementation of the Hague Convention was best illustrated during the Gulf War, where many members of the coalition forces which were either parties to the Convention or, in the instance of non- parties such as the U.S., accepted its rules, most notably by creating a “no-fire target list” of places where cultural property was known to exist.

Definition of cultural property

Article 1. For the purposes of the present Convention, the term "cultural property" shall cover, irrespective of origin or ownership: (a) movable or immovable property of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people, such as monuments of architecture, art or history, whether religious or secular; archaeological sites; groups of buildings which, as a whole, are of historical or artistic interest; works of art; manuscripts, books and other objects of artistic, historical or archaeological interest; as well as scientific collections and important collections of books or archives or of reproductions of the property defined above; (b) buildings whose main and effective purpose is to preserve or exhibit the movable cultural property defined in sub-paragraph (a) such as museums, large libraries and depositories of archives, and refuges intended to shelter, in the event of armed conflict, the movable cultural property defined in subparagraph (a); (c) centres containing a large amount of cultural property as defined in sub-paragraphs (a) and (b), to be known as "centres containing monuments".

Safeguarding cultural property

Article 3. The High Contracting Parties undertake to prepare in time of peace for the safeguarding of cultural property situated within their own territory against the foreseeable effects of an armed conflict, by taking such measures, as they consider appropriate.

Respect for cultural property

Article 4. 1. The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect cultural property situated within their own territory as well as within the territory of other High Contracting Parties by refraining from any use of the property and its immediate surroundings or of the appliances in use for its protection for purposes which are likely to expose it to destruction or damage in the event of armed conflict; and by refraining from any act of hostility directed against such property. 2. The obligations mentioned in paragraph I of the present Article may be waived only in cases where military necessity imperatively requires such a waiver. 3. The High Contracting Parties further undertake to prohibit, prevent and, if necessary, put a stop to any form of theft, pillage or misappropriation of, and any acts of vandalism directed against, cultural property. They shall, refrain from requisitioning movable cultural property situated in the territory of another High Contracting Party. 4. They shall refrain from any act directed by way of reprisals against cultural property. 5. No High Contracting Party may evade the obligations incumbent upon it under the present Article, in respect of another High Contracting Party, by reason of the fact that the latter has not applied the measures of safeguard referred to in Article 3


Article 5. 1. Any High Contracting Party in occupation of the whole or part of the territory of another High Contracting Party shall as far as possible support the competent national authorities of the occupied country in safeguarding and preserving its cultural property. 2. Should it prove necessary to take measures to preserve cultural property situated in occupied territory and damaged by military operations, and should the competent national authorities be unable to take such measures, the Occupying Power shall, as far as possible, and in close co-operation with such authorities, take the most necessary measures of preservation. 3. Any High Contracting Party whose government is considered their legitimate government by members of a resistance movement, shall, if possible, draw their attention to the obligation to comply with those provisions of the Conventions dealing with respect for cultural property.

Second Protocol to the Hague Convention

Criminal acts committed against cultural property in the late 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s highlighted the deficiencies in the implementation of the Hague Convention. As the result of a review, the Second Protocol to the Hague Convention was adopted at a Diplomatic Conference held at The Hague in March 1999. The Second Protocol seeks to include the lessons learned from protecting cultural property during conflict and the developments in international humanitarian and cultural property protection law since 1954. It builds on the provisions contained in the Convention relating to the safeguarding of and respect for cultural property and the conduct of hostilities; thereby providing greater protection than before.

Enhanced protection

Chapter Three of the Second Protocol creates the new category of enhanced protection for cultural heritage. To be granted enhanced protection the cultural property in question must be of particular importance for humankind, enjoy proper legal protection at the national level, and not be used for military purposes. Chapter Four complements the protection regime set out in the Hague Convention by providing two levels of protection: the basic level under the Hague Convention for its States Parties and the higher level of protection under the Second Protocol for its States Parties.

Currently there are currently only 10 cultural properties from 5 States Parties inscribed on the Enhanced Protection List. These include properties in Azerbaijan, Belgium, Cyprus, Italy and Lithuania. New inscriptions were planned for 2014-2017 but thus far no new cultural properties have been inscribed on the Enhanced Protection List.

The Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict

Article 24 of the Second Protocol establishes a 12-member Intergovernmental Committee to oversee the implementation of the Second Protocol and de facto the Convention. Its main functions are: the granting, suspension or cancellation of enhanced protection; supervision of the implementation of the Second Protocol; and consideration and distribution of international assistance from, and the use of, the Fund for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

The Fund for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict

Article 29 of the Second Protocol establishes the Fund for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. Its purpose is to provide financial or other assistance for preparatory or other measures to be taken in peacetime. It also provides financial or other assistance in relation to emergency, provisional or other measures to protect cultural property during periods of armed conflict, or for recovery after the end of hostilities. The Committee granted financial assistance to El Salvador in 2011 and to Mali in 2012. However, since 2012 no State Party has requested international assistance from the fund.

Sanctions and individual criminal responsibility

Chapter Four specifies sanctions to be imposed for serious violations with respect to cultural property and defines the conditions in which individual criminal responsibility should apply. This reflects an increased effort to fight impunity through effective criminal prosecution. The Second Protocol defines five 'serious violations' for which it establishes individual criminal responsibility. States are obligated to adopt appropriate legislation to make these violations criminal offences under domestic law, to provide appropriate penalties and to establish jurisdiction over these offences, including universal jurisdiction for three of the five serious violations.[6] At time of writing, no one has faced prosecution under the Chapter Four provisions.

World War II and degenerate art

Degenerate art

The Nazi Party headed by Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany in 1933 after the country's crippling defeat, and its socioeconomic distress during the years following World War I. World War II was aimed at reclaiming the glory of the once great Germanic state. Nothing was safe from Nazi Germany’s glare, with the first victim being cultural property of the European nations and the cultural property of significant groups located within them. The Nazi party through the “Third Reich confiscated close to 20% of all Western European art during the war. “By the end of the Second World War, the Nazi party looted at least one-third of all private art in France”.

Inherent within the Nazi’s ideology was the idea of supremacy of the Aryan Race and all that it produced; as such the Nazi campaign’s aims were to neutralize non-Germanic cultures and this was done through the destruction of culturally significant art and artifacts. This is illustrated greatest in the Jewish communities throughout Europe; by “devising a series of laws that allowed them to justify and regulate the legal confiscation of cultural and personal property. Within Germany the looting of German Jewish cultural property began with the confiscation of non-Germanic artwork in the German state collection. Degenerate art as it was known under the Nazi regime was deemed to be art which was not innately Germanic and which did not speak to Germanic culture, as such it was deemed to be worthless and slated for confiscation and destruction. Degenerate works of art were those whose subject, artist, or art was Jewish and as such offensive to the Third Reich.

Jewish collections were looted the most throughout the war. German Jews were ordered to report their personal assets, which were then privatized by the country. Jewish owned art galleries were forced to sell the works of art they housed. “The Nazis concentrated their efforts on ensuring that all art within Germany would be Aryan in nature, speaking to the might of the Germanic state rather than Jewish art which was deemed as a blight on society. Confiscation committees seized approximately 16,000 items, within Germany wherein following the purge, German museums were declared purified”. The remaining unexploited art was destroyed in massive bonfires. As the war progressed, the Nazi party elite ordered the confiscation of cultural property throughout various European countries.

Nazi plunder in Eastern Europe

Modern Day Amber Room

In the Soviet Union, Nazi plunder of cultural significant art is best illustrated in the Third Reich's pillage of the Catherine Palace near St Petersburg and its famous Amber Room dating to the early 1700s. In October 1941, the Nazis had occupied the western portion of the Soviet Union, and began removing art treasures back to the west. The entirety of the Amber Room was removed to Königsberg and reconstructed there. In January 1945, with the Russian army advancing on the city, the Amber Room was order to be moved again but its fate is thereafter unclear. A post-war Russian report concluded that 'summarizing all the facts, we can say that the Amber Room was destroyed between 9 and 11 April 1945' during the battle to take the city. However, in the absence of definitive proof, other theories about its fate continue to be entertained to the present day. With financial assistance from German donors, Russian craftsmen reconstructed a new Amber Room during the 1990s. The new room was dedicated by Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder at the 300th anniversary of the city of Saint Petersburg.

After World War II

With the conclusion of the Second World War and the subsequent defeat of the Axis Powers, the atrocities which the Nazi leadership condoned, leading to the removal of culturally significant items and the destruction of numerous others could not be allowed to occur in future generations. This led the victorious Allied forces to create provisions to ensure safeguards for culturally significant items in times of war. As a result, in 1935 following the signature of the Roerich Pact by the American States in 1935 attempts were undertaken to draft a more comprehensive convention for the protection of monuments and works of art in time of war. In 1939, a draft convention, elaborated under the auspices of the International Museums Office, was presented to governments by the Netherlands. Due to the onset of the Second World War the draft convention was shelved with no further steps being taken. With the conclusion of the war, a new proposal was submitted to UNESCO by the Netherlands in 1948. The General Conference of UNESCO in 1951 decided to convene a committee of government experts to draft a convention. This committee met in 1952 and thereafter submitted its drafts to the General Conference. The intergovernmental Conference, which drew up and adopted the Convention and the further Acts, took place at The Hague from 21 April to 14 May 1954 where 56 States were represented. Following this international agreement The Hague Convention For the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict would come into force in 1956 in order to be an instrument of non derogation for the states bound by the document to stop the looting and destruction of cultural property

Siege of Dubrovnik 1991

The Old City of Dubrovnik

From the time of its establishment the city of Dubrovnik was under the protection of the Byzantine Empire; after the Fourth Crusade the city came under the sovereignty of Venice 1205–1358 CE, and by the Treaty of Zadar in 1358, it became part of the Hungarian-Croatian Kingdom. Following the 1815 Congress of Vienna, the city was annexed by Austria and remained part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the conclusion of the First World War. From 1918 to 1939 Dubrovnik was part of the Zetska Banovina District that established its Croatian connections. From 1945 to 1990 Croatia would become part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. One of the most striking features of the historic city of Dubrovnik, and that which gives its characteristic appearance are its intact medieval fortifications. Its historic city walls run uninterrupted encircling the Old-City. “This complex structure of fortification is one of the most complete depictions of medieval construction in the Mediterranean, consisting of a series of forts, bastions, casemates, towers and detached forts”. Within the Old City are many medieval churches, cathedrals, and palaces from the Baroque period, encircled by its fortified wall, which would ensure its listed place by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 1972. The Old Town is not only an architectural and urban ensemble of high quality, but it is also full of museums and libraries, such as the collection of the Ragusan masters in the Dominican Monastery, the Museum of the History of Dubrovnik, the Icon Museum, and the libraries of the Franciscan and Dominican Monasteries. It also houses the archives of Ragusa, which have been kept continuously since the 13th century and are “the most important source for Mediterranean history”. The archives hold materials created by the civil service in the Republic of Ragusa. The Siege of Dubrovnik was a military engagement fought between the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and Croatian forces which defended the city of Dubrovnik and its surroundings during the Croatian War of Independence. The Old Town was specifically targeted by the JNA even though it served no military purpose to bomb this town. At the heart of the bombing efforts by the JNA elite was the complete eradication of the memory of the Croatian people and history by erasing their cultural heritage and destroying their cultural property.

Destruction of Mostar Bridge

Mostar Bridge.

The historic town of Mostar, spanning a deep valley of the Neretva River, developed in the 15th and 16th centuries as an Ottoman frontier town and during the Austro-Hungarian period in the 19th and 20th centuries. Mostar was mostly known for its old Turkish houses and specifically the Old Bridge; the Stari Mostar, after which it is named. In the 1990s conflict with the former Yugoslavia, however, most of the historic town and the Old Bridge were destroyed purposely. This type of destruction was in step with that of the Old Town of Dubrovnik, where the aim was the eradication of the memory of the people that once occupied the land, an effort reminiscent of the Third Reich and the Nazi party.

See also



Further reading

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/18/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.