In February 1994, a group of experts met in the Netherlands to consider whether the international community should update the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. At the same time, Dr Leo Van Nispen began discussions on behalf of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) to consider whether a new organisation should be formed to protection cultural heritage – he proposed the name “International Committee of the Blue Shield”, based on the protective symbol in the 1954 Hague Convention – the blue and white shield. After initial meetings between ICOMOS and the International Council of Museums (ICOM), it was decided to also include the other UNESCO-recognised bodies for the types of cultural property mentioned in the 1954 Hague Convention: the International Council on Archives (ICA), and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA).
The organisation was formally registered as a standing emergency coordination and response committee of the four non-governmental organisations in 1996 in Paris, with UNESCO and the International Centre for Conservation (ICCROM), Rome as partners and permanent observers to meetings. It took the blue shield of the 1954 Hague Convention as its logo.
Patrick Boylan, writer of the 1993 UNESCO “Review of the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict”, led the joint ICBS delegation of the four UNESCO-linked organisations at the 1999 Second Protocol Drafting Conference. For the first time, international legislation contained a clear role for civil society, in the form of the non-governmental sector. The ICBS was recognised by name, along with its constituent “eminent professional organisations”, as having a standing advisory role in relation to the Committee, the meetings of States Parties, and the implementation of the Protocol.
Caption: Patrick Boylan, April 2019
© P. Boylan, 2019
Article 27 Functions
3. […] To assist in the implementation of its functions, the Committee may invite to its meetings, in an advisory capacity, eminent professional organizations such as those which have formal relations with UNESCO, including the International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS) and its constituent bodies. Representatives of the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (Rome Centre) (ICCROM) and of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) may also be invited to attend in an advisory capacity,
ICBS Goals and Principles
The main objectives of ICBS were:
- to facilitate international response to threats or emergencies through cooperation between ICBS and national organisations;
- to propose its services in terms of expertise;
- to encourage safeguarding and respect for cultural property and particularly to promote standards for risk preparedness;
- to train experts at a national or regional level to prevent, control and recover from disasters.
In order to reach these objectives ICBS had three major areas for actions:
- raising awareness about damage to cultural heritage;
- implementing programmes for preventing and managing disasters and for rebuilding afterwards;
- identifying resources for prevention and rapid intervention in emergency situations.
Many of those involved in its creation hoped that in time, ICBs would enable the Blue Shield to become for cultural heritage what the Red Cross is for humanitarian protection. ICBS was intended to act before, during and after conflicts and disasters.
ICBS elaborated its Charter in Strasbourg, April 2000, and decided to respect the following principles:
- joint actions
- respect of cultural identity
- work on non-profit basis.
Key goals included:
- to assess the risks and raise awareness of threats among governments, professionals and the public;
- to improve risk preparedness: this phase starts very much upstream with the selection of an appropriate site for the building. Another important point is the creation and updating of inventories of the collections. Those inventories should be duplicated and stored in a different place and accessible in the event of conflict or disaster; it is also recommended to duplicate those documents which are unique or of specific value or very often consulted and to store one copy of each duplicate in a different place;
- to train professional staffs to intervene during and after disasters and to organise workshops;
- to promote the elaboration of disaster plans, especially in national institutions.
- to provide a pool of experts through its international, cross-sectoral network of professionals;
- raising core funds to provide means of immediate response;
- disseminating information and sharing resources.
In the event of a disaster, ICBS aimed to play the role of a consultant thanks to its pool of experts and its network of professionals and to assess damages and provide expertise as to how to undertake the recovery.
An Extraordinary General Assembly of the ANCBS (Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield) was held with ICBS (International Committee of the Blue Shield) representatives present in Rome in 2014. It was at this meeting that the ICBS and ANCBS agreed to amalgamate.
New statutes were approved in 2016, and formally agreed at the 2017 general assembly, merging ICBS and ANCBS to become simply “The Blue Shield”.
Boylan, P. J. 2002. The concept of cultural protection in times of armed conflict: from the crusades to the new millennium. In: Illicit Antiquities. The theft of cultural and the extinction of archaeology. Brodie, N., and Walker Tubb, K (eds.), P43 – 108.
Varlamoff, M-T. 2002. The Blue Shield Initiative. Joining Efforts to Preserve our Cultural Heritage in Danger, Liber Quarterly 12: P275-282 (Available in our document library)
Or read about the proposal to merge ANCBS and ICBS at the Rome Meeting in 2014
Read about the activities of ICBS in our News and Activities section
Learn more about the 1999 Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention in our Law Library