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The 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict provides for a system of general and special protection of cultural property in situations of armed conflict. There are also two protocols to the Convention—the First Protocol, adopted in 1954, sets out undertakings for the protection of cultural property in territory occupied during an armed conflict. The Second Protocol, adopted in 1999, extends and clarifies obligations under the Convention, identifies five acts which are serious violations of the Second Protocol, and establishes a system of enhanced protection for “cultural heritage of the greatest importance for humanity”.

The UK signed the Convention in 1954, but has not ratified it or acceded to either of the Protocols, although it does comply with the Convention during military operations. It has been the policy of successive governments since 2004 to ratify the Convention, but to date parliamentary time has not been found to pass the primary legislation necessary to ensure that the UK could fully meet the obligations set out in the Convention and Protocols. The Labour Government introduced a draft Bill in 2008, but it did not proceed beyond pre-legislative scrutiny.

The Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill [HL], which is based on the 2008 draft Bill, was introduced in the House of Lords on 19 May 2016 and is scheduled for second reading on 6 June 2016. It would introduce:

  • Offences designed to protect cultural property in the event of armed conflict, including attacking, thieving, pillaging, misappropriating or vandalising protected cultural property, with heavier penalties for extensive destruction and attacking property under enhanced protection.
  • An offence of misuse of the Blue Shield, an emblem that identifies cultural property protected under the Convention and Protocols. It would also establish authorised uses of the Blue Shield.
  • An offence of dealing in cultural property that has been illegally exported from territory occupied during an armed conflict, and powers for the forfeiture or seizure of such cultural property.
  • Immunity from seizure for cultural property in the UK which is being transported for safekeeping during a conflict between other states.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have expressed support for the Bill, as have international cultural protection organisations.

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