Sunday, 28 September 2008

Half a century on and we're still just talking about it...

Last week the Archaeological Institute of America, Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation and U.S. Committee for the Blue Shield announced that “the United States Senate voted on September 25 to give its advice and consent to ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict”. Hooray, but not before time. Its a 54-year old document. The Convention together with its two protocols of 1954 and 1999 establishes the principles for protecting cultural sites, monuments and collections during both armed conflict and military occupation. The United States was one of the few countries with a significant military force and significant extraterritorial ambitions that has not ratified this important international document. Some idea of the difficulties the cultural heritage protection community had over the last half century in getting the US government to ratify this document is described by the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield (History of the 1954 Hague Convention in the U.S.. There is also an interesting article giving some background information (J.A.F. Nafziger Protection of Cultural Heritage in Time of War and its Aftermath. See also the pertinent comments by Larry Rothfeld here.

The US however has not of course been alone in dragging its feet over this Convention. While it is true that Great Britain has announced (May 14, 2004) its “intention to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention and accede to both its Protocols”, symbolically on the 50th anniversary of the Convention (as if that made the delay any the more acceptable), as far as I am aware seems not to have actually done so. The DCMS website explains rather feebly that “the UK decided not to ratify the Convention when it was first drafted because, along with a number of other countries, it considered that it did not provide an effective regime for the protection of cultural property.” It was only (they explain) with the drafting of the Second Protocol in 1999 (in which the UK was involved) that created conditions “that would enable the UK to ratify the Convention”. It took them another five years to tell the world that however. In the meantime they took part in the invasion and occupation of Iraq along with fellow non-ratifyer the US (but involving in their coalition nations - like Poland - which had).

The UK's initial announcement was then followed by a long process of creation of “consultation” documents (why were they not compiled before the announcement?) Only in January 2008 did the UK Government publish the Draft Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill "which is required to enable the UK ratify the Hague Convention and accede to its two protocols". Let us see how long it takes the United Kingdom to pass beyond drafts and consultations and actually put the measures into practice.

What's the betting the UK troops will be back out of Iraq before then.

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