The 1954 Hague Convention was drawn up after the widespread devastation of cultural property in World War II. Together with its two Protocols of 1954 and 1999, it is the most widely recognised international treaty exclusively dedicated to the protection of cultural heritage in armed conflict. The treaty stipulates a number of measures that States and the armed forces should conduct during peacetime to prepare for conflict, and provides a regime for its protection during fighting.

Article 1 of the Convention provides a (non-exhaustive) definition of the types of cultural property that are eligible for protection under the Convention provided that they are “of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people“.

Article 1. Definition of cultural property

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 sub-paragraph (a);

(c) centers containing a large amount of cultural property as defined in sub-paragraphs (a) and (b), to be known as `centers containing monuments’.

The States that are party to the Convention benefit from the mutual commitment of more than 130 States who are committed to sparing cultural heritage from consequences of possible armed conflicts. States and their armed forces should implement a number of proactive safeguarding measures in peacetime to prepare for armed conflict.

1 – Inventories:

  • adoption of measures such as the preparation of inventories identifying significant cultural property of great importance to the nation;
  • consideration of the possibility of registering a limited number of refuges, monumental centres and other immovable cultural property of very great importance in the International Register of Cultural Property under Special Protection in order to obtain special protection for such property;
  • consideration of the possibility of marking important buildings and monuments with the distinctive emblem of the Convention – the Blue Shield – to “facilitate their recognition”.

2 – Proactive preparation of protective measures:

  • preparation for the removal of movable cultural property or the provision for adequate in situ protection of property,

3 – Proactive preparation of emergency measures:

  • developing and practicing emergency measures for protection against fire or structural collapse;

4 – Competent authorities

  • designation of competent authorities responsible for the safeguarding of cultural property; and establishment of special units within armed forces to be responsible for the protection of cultural property;

These are supported by requirements for awareness raising, and training as required.

  • developing respect for all cultural property (that of the State and others); and
  • wide promotion of the Convention within the general public and target groups such as cultural heritage professionals, the armed forces or law-enforcement agencies.

The Convention also has measures to be carried out during armed conflict which include:

  • refraining from any use of the property and its immediate surroundings for purposes likely to expose it to destruction or damage, and refraining from any act of hostility directed against such property;
  • use of respect for the regimes of Special and Enhanced protection
  • sanctions for breaches of the Convention;
  • implementation of the protective regimes developed during peacetime if required, such as evacuation to refuges; and
  • a regime for managing and enforcing the Convention during conflict (the Regulations of Control).
three blue and white shields repeated in a triangular formation.

In addition to the general protection provided to cultural property of great importance by the Convention, assuming certain conditions are met, a limited number of locations of “cultural property of very great importance” (immovable cultural property, centres containing monuments , and refuges of movable cultural property) may be entered onto UNESCO’s International Register of Cultural Property under Special Protection, which provides a higher level of immunity in conflict from all State Parties to the 1954 Convention.  Sites currently on the Special Protection register are listed on UNESCOs website.

The Hague Convention specifies an emblem – the Blue Shield repeated three times in a triangular formation (left). The emblem is a protective symbol used during armed conflicts and its use is restricted by law.

For more information and guidance on the Hague Convention protected emblems, or to download a copy, visit our Document Library.

The Blue and white shield of the Convention with a wide red border

The Second Protocol (1999) provides an additional protection regime called Enhanced Protection for “cultural property of the greatest importance to humanity”, again assuming certain conditions are met. This protection regime provides an even higher level of immunity, but only if all sides in the conflict are party to the Second Protocol. Sites that are registered for Enhanced Protection are listed on UNESCOs website.

The Regulations for the Execution of the Convention specify an emblem – the blue shield with a red border (left). The cultural emblem is a protective symbol used during armed conflicts and its use is restricted by law.

For more information and guidance on the Hague Convention protected emblems, or to download a copy, visit our Document Library.

Although the 1954 Hague Convention and its Protocols are treaties, and so are normally only binding on those States that have signed them, many parts of the 1954 Hague Convention are so widely implemented that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) considers them to be part of customary international law, and so deems them to be binding on all parties in a conflict at all times.

The 1999 Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention makes the provisions of the convention and both protocols applicable to non-international armed conflicts.

By October 2018, the main Convention has been ratified by 133 States, the First Protocol by 110, and the Second Protocol by 82 States.

The Convention and its Protocols should be interpreted in light of the laws of armed conflict, in particular the principles of necessity, proportionality, distinction, good faith, humane treatment, and limitation. Learn more about the Laws of Armed Conflict in our Customary Law section.

Blue Shield and the 1954 Hague Convention

When it was founded in 1996, the Blue Shield took up the emblem of the 1954 Hague Convention as its symbol, in line with Article 17 of the Convention:

The distinctive emblem may be used alone only as a means of identification of: (b) the persons responsible for the duties of control in accordance with the Regulations for the execution of the Convention.

However as part of the revision of its statutes, the Blue Shield adopted a new design in 2017: the blue shield logo. It is the blue shield emblem of the 1954 Hague Convention, set within a lighter cerulean blue circle encompassed by a royal blue circle, symbolising both Blue Shield’s roots and wider remit. Learn more about Blue Shield logo, or download a copy in our Documents Library.

By the time the Second Protocol to the Hague Convention was released in 1999, ICBS was a recognised advisory body to the Inter-Governmental Committee for cultural property protection in armed conflict.

Royal blue and white shield, pointed down, in a paler blue circle

Article 27 Functions

  1. […] 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.