Treaty Law and the 1954 Hague Convention

About Treaty Law

  • Sign it (or, if it has been in existence for some time Accede to it)
  • Ratify it (that is, pass a Bill approving it in the State’s national parliament, Senate, or other appropriate legislature body. This frequently involves making it part of national legislation with penalties for breaking it. Some international treaties are self-executing once ratified, meaning (very generally) national courts are able to enforce the treaties without additional legislation, whilst others need implementing legislation which sets penalties for breaking it under national law).
  • Implement it (this should not be confused with implementing legislation, which is the legislation that passes the international treaty into national legislation. Implementation is also a commonly-used term used for the process of fulfilling the articles of the treaty once they have become law. For example, Article 7 of the 1954 Hague Convention calls for the establishment of of services or specialist personnel in the armed forces to be responsible for cultural property protection. A State which has ratified the 1954 Hague Convention should do this).

Many treaties older treaties were written to apply only to States, and not to other, non-State, parties in a conflict, although some now have amendments that make them applicable in non-international armed conflict, like the 1999 Second Protocol of the 1954 Hague Convention. In addition, if parts of a treaty become accepted widely enough, they may then become part of customary international law, and become binding on all parties in a conflict. Treaty Law is dependent on the principle of reciprocity, which means that both States in a conflict must have signed the Treaty for it to be applicable – so for example, a State that is party to the 199 Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention may register a site for Enhanced Protection, but if the attacking State is not party to it, it is not legally obliged to recognise the protection afforded (although if the action was later judged to be a war crime, this might still influence the any prosecution).

A Convention is a type of treaty (like the 1954 Hague Convention), and so is binding on its signatories. Declarations are also types of treaty, but they are not legally binding, although they do represent an internationally-agreed upon standard.

The key legal treaty for the protection of cultural property in armed conflict is the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. This treaty, together with its Protocols of 1954 and 1999, is the most important legal text for cultural property protection. It regulates the conduct of nations during war and military occupation (and non-State actors in the Second Protocol) in order to provide a formal regime for the protection of monuments, museums, libraries and archives and other cultural sites, and proscribes the circumstances under which the destruction of cultural property is permissible.

Read more below about the laws that underpin and provide the wider context for our work.

Ballistic impact damage from rifles, Wadi Rum, Jordan.

The Shots are c.60 years old, pre-dating the site's World Heritage status. Impact damage continues, but now avoids the carvings.

© Photo by Dr Lisa Mol, UWE Bristol, 2018

The laws, declarations, and resolutions that protect heritage in the event of armed conflict, underpinning the work of the Blue Shield

Heritage Protection Laws in Armed Conflict

The main law protecting cultural property in armed conflict today is

Some of the key principles of the 1954 Hague Convention were also included in

UN Security Council Resolutions

Our work is also underpinned by a number of UN Security Council Resolutions:

  • UN Security Council resolution 1373 (2001)
  • UN Security Council resolution 1483 (2003)
  • UN Security Council resolution 2199 (2015)
  • UN Security Council resolution 2253 (2015)
  • UN Security Council resolution 2347 (2017)
  • UN Security Council resolution 2368 (2017)

Read about the UN Security Council Resolutions.

UNESCO Declarations

The most important UNESCO Declaration is the 2003 UNESCO Declaration concerning the Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage.
You can read the text of this landmark declaration on UNESCOs website.

Regional Initiatives

There are also several regional initiatives that inform the work of the Blue Shield (nationally and internationally) such as the ongoing efforts of the Council of Europe, whose Committee on Offences relating to Cultural Property is developing a legal framework to address illicit trafficking in cultural property, and whose cultural heritage work, such as the Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society (Faro Convention, 2005), provides a framework on the heritage value in society.

Read more about the Council of Europe Cultural Heritage work on their website, or read the Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society (Faro Convention, 2005).

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