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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
Signed 14 May 1954
Location the Hague
Effective 7 August 1956
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 an international treaty that requires its signatories to protect cultural property in war. It was signed at The Hague, Netherlands, on May 14, 1954, and entered into force August 7, 1956. As of February 2014, it has been ratified by 126 states.

The convention defines a protective sign to facilitate the identification of protected cultural property during an armed conflict. A triple use of that sign is also possible to mark exceptionally important cultural property under special protection.

Following the Second World War, UNESCO adopted the Hague Convention (1954) which created rules to protect cultural goods during armed conflicts. This Convention was the first international treaty aimed at protecting cultural heritage in the context of war, and which highlighted the concept of common heritage and led to the creation of the International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS), whose Director General is currently Mr Julien Anfruns from the International Council of Museums (ICOM). The Hague Convention as such, is the oldest international treaty where at its core, is intended to deal exclusively with the protection of cultural heritage. To protocols to the convention were concluded. The first protocol was introduced in May 14, 1954, and came into force August 7, 1956, while the second protocol was introduced March 26, 1999, and came in force March 9, 2004. Under the Hague Convention, immovable and moveable cultural property “including monuments of architecture, art, archaeological sites, manuscripts, books and other objects of artistic, historical or archaeological interest” are protected to ensure the cultural legacy and by extension the cultural property of, nations, groups and distinct members of a society worldwide, facing armed conflict.


As of February 2014, 126 are party to the treaty, while 4 others (Andorra, Ireland, Philippines and the UK) have signed, but not ratified.

Cultural property

Cultural property is the physical 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. As such cultural heritage is often expressed as either intangible or tangible Cultural heritage. The protection of the inherited property of nations and the groups and societies that inhabit them are of great importance because of the significance which are associated with these items to humanity as a whole.

World War II and degenerate art

The Nazi Party headed by Adolf Hitler in 1933 rose to power in Germany 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 with Hitler as its leader, reshaping Europe to his whim. Nothing was safe from Nazi Germany’s glare, with the first victim being cultural property of various 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. “Countless objects including some of Europe’s most prized treasures and artworks went missing. Some objects were destroyed outright for not being Germanic enough”. “At the end of the Second World War, the Nazi party looted at least one-third of all private art in France”. The Nazis were efficient and effective in the looting of cultural property from European nations. 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. The campaign was one of many steps leading to the “final solution” and the destruction of the Jewish community in Europe. 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 know 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. During the War Hitler personally

stole from the private collections of art owned by Jewish people to add to his own burgeoning art collection. Jewish collections were looted the most throughout the war, because of Hitler’s and the Nazi Party’s paternalistic or inferior view of Jewish people. 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 un-exploitable art was destroyed in massive bonfires. As the war progressed and the final solution became ever more realized with the conquest of other European states and its Jewish communities, the Nazi party elite ordered the confiscation of cultural property throughout various European countries. "According to Lynn H. Nicholas in The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War, the displacement of art was unprecedented because never before have objects been moved about on such a large scale”.

Nazi Plunder in Eastern Europe

File:Amber Room-1.jpg
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.

Post 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

Hague Convention Preamble

Within the Preamble of the Hague Convention For the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict 1959 it was written such that this document would speak to future generations in order to ensure that the events of World War II could not re-occur. It reads as follows:

The High Contracting Parties: Recognizing that cultural property has suffered grave damage during recent armed conflicts and that, by reason of the developments in the technique of warfare, it is in increasing danger of destruction; Being convinced that damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind, since each people makes its contribution to the culture of the world; Considering that the preservation of the cultural heritage is of great importance for all peoples of the world and that it is important that this heritage should receive international protection; Guided by the principles concerning the protection of cultural property during armed conflict, as established in the Conventions of The Hague of 1899 and of 1907 and in the Washington Pact of 15 April 1935; Being of the opinion that such protection cannot be effective unless both national and international measures have been taken to organize it in time of peace; Being determined to take all possible steps to protect cultural property; Have agreed upon the following provisions:

Definition of Cultural Property

Article(Art) 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

Art. 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

Art. 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


Art. 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.

These provisions set under The Hague Convention For the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict stood at the forefront in protection cultural property in times of war, wherein there would be legal obligations on signatory states to actively ensure the events of the Second World War could not happen again. The most successful implementation of the Hague convention 1954 is 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 know to exist. The 1954 Hague Convention was not however, effective in the former Yugoslavia, as the Dubrovnik and Mostar bombings illustrate. These events would lead to prompt efforts to amend the 1954 Hague convention to prevent similar destruction to ensure greater individual and state accountability.

Siege of Dubrovnik 1991

File:Aerial view Dubrovnik Old City.jpg
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”.[citation needed] 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

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 by the advancing JNA forces. 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.

Hague Convention Second Protocol

Criminal acts committed against cultural property in the course of the many conflicts that took place at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s highlighted a number of deficiencies in the implementation of the Hague Convention. A review of the Convention was initiated in 1991 to draw up a new agreement to improve the Convention taking account of the experience gained from recent conflicts and the development of international humanitarian and cultural property protection law since 1954. Consequently, a Second Protocol to the Hague Convention was adopted at a Diplomatic Conference held at The Hague in March 1999. The Second Protocol further elaborates the provisions of the Convention relating to safeguarding of and respect for cultural property and the conduct of hostilities; thereby providing greater protection than before. It creates a new category of enhanced protection for cultural heritage that is particularly important for humankind, enjoys proper legal protection at the national level, and is not used for military purposes. It also specifies the sanctions to be imposed for serious violations with respect to cultural property and defines the conditions in which individual criminal responsibility shall apply. Finally, it establishes a 12-member Intergovernmental Committee to oversee the implementation of the Second Protocol and de facto the Convention. The Second Protocol does not replace the Hague Convention; it complements it. In other words, the adoption of the Second Protocol has created 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

See also


  1. . International Council on Monuments and Sites — Contains the full text of the Treaty
  2. . Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict - 1954 (information by UNESCO)
  3. . Text of the Convention at the Center for a World in Balance
  4. . "Implementing the 1954 Hague Convention and its Protocols: legal and practical implications" Patrick J Boylan, City University London, UK Feb 2006]
  6. . U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield
  7. . " International Humanitarian Law - Treaties & Documents" 2005
  8. . " UNESCO "

Further reading

  • Patrick J. Boylan, Review of the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property for the Protection in the Event of Armed Conflict (The Hague Convention of 1954), Paris, UNESCO (1993), Report ref. CLT-93/WS/12.
  • Jiri Toman, La protection des biens culturels en cas de conflit armé - Commentaire de la Convention de la Haye du 14 mai 1954, Paris, (1994).
  • Fabio Maniscalco, Jus Praedae, Naples (1999).
  • Fabio Maniscalco (ed.), Protection of Cultural Heritage in war areas, monographic collection "Mediterraneum", vol. 2 (2002).
  • Fabio Maniscalco, World Heritage and War - monographic series "Mediterraneum", vol. VI, Naples (2007).
  • Nout van Woudenberg & Liesbeth Lijnzaad (ed.). Protecting Cultural Property in Armed Conflict - An Insight into the 1999 Second Protocol to the Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, publ. Martinus Nijhoff. Leiden - Boston (2010)
  • Peter Barenboim, Naeem Sidiqi, Bruges, the Bridge between Civilizations: The 75 Anniversary of the Roerich Pact, Grid Belgium, 2010. ISBN 978-5-98856-114-9

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