UNESCO Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict enters into force in Ireland (Museum news)

Posted: Tuesday, 18 September 2018

The 1954 UNESCO Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict entered into force in Ireland on the 17 August 2018.

The 1954 UNESCO Convention states 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. During peacetime, those countries that have passed the treaty into law, are expected to prepare for the safeguarding of cultural property in emergencies (1954, Art.3) - increasingly this includes natural emergencies such as floods or earthquakes. Countries also undertake to protect and safeguard cultural property in their own territory and in the territory of another State in times of war (1954, Art4). The intentional destruction of cultural property without Imperative Military Necessity is considered a war crime and, although rare, individuals have been prosecuted under the 1954 Convention.

The Convention has its own symbol, a quartered ‘Blue Shield'. It can be displayed on buildings and personnel to mark them as non-military targets. The Blue Shield is also the name of the international organisation of committees (the Irish committee was formed in 2011) that explain their role as the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross. They help develop national emergency preparedness and training, and will aid in mobilising volunteers and resources to respond to crises involving the destruction of heritage.

The unprecedented scale of destruction of European heritage during World War II, together with large scale looting of cultural artefacts (as portrayed by the movie Monuments Men), led to a desire at international level to create an agreement that would protect both built heritage and artefacts during wartime. This treaty was originally signed by 49 nations at the Hague in 1954 including Ireland. It could not enter into Irish law however until supporting legislation had been passed and deposited with UNESCO. Thus today Ireland becomes the 133rd country to ratify this important international treaty, together with its Second Protocol (1999). The Second Protocol was drawn up in an effort to address a rise in ethnic and nationalist conflicts, such as those in the Balkans, where deliberate destruction of heritage was utilised as a tool of war, and it supplements the 1954 provisions with enhanced systems, clarifications and measures for enforcement.

Celebrating Ratification
To mark the entry into force of the Convention and 2nd Protocol the Irish National Committee of the Blue Shield (INCBS) will be hosting a free public screening of Destruction of Memory at the Irish Film Institute in Dublin. This important film about events in Syria and Iraq has been seen around the world but has yet to be screened in Ireland (http://destructionofmemoryfilm.com/). Details on the event and how to reserve your free ticket will be posted soon on https://www.facebook.com/IrishBlueShield and @IrishNCBS.