Following the creation of the International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS) in 1996, the first national committees of the Blue Shield were established in 2000. It was soon felt that there was a need to coordinate these committees, and ICBS did not have the capacity. An ICBS Conference was held at the Hague in 2006 on the topic Towards Solid Organisation: Infrastructure and Awareness. The conference discussed the establishment of the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield (ANCBS), culminating in the signing of the 2006_Hague_Accord, which governed the creation of the ANCBS. Karl Habsburg1 was instrumental in founding ANCBS, and on 7 December 2008 he was elected as its first President at the Blue Shield Founding Conference at the Hague.
He continued to lead the organisation through its merger with ICBS in 2016, and served as the first President of The Blue Shield organisation (elected November 2017). He stepped down at the General Assembly in August 2020, but continues as a strong supporter of the organisation. For example, in October 2020, he co-signed an MoU with UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Deployment in Lebanon with Blue Shield International, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), and the Lebanese Committee of the Blue Shield.
During his time as President, he undertook fact-finding missions in Egypt, Libya, Lebanon and Mali, leading Blue Shield assessment teams to examine damage to sites during unrest and armed conflict. In Mali, this required in cooperation with the Armed Forces, for example, in particular, the Commander of military region 5, Colonel Kèba Sangare, and Siratigui Sogob. More recently, Karl also visited Beirut following the devastating explosion on 4 August 2020 to offer support to the Lebanese National Committee of the Blue Shield. The reports of the Blue Shield Assessment teams are available in the Blue Shield Missions.
Karl is also a keen advocate of training for armed forces and civilians in cultural property protection, and has led and supported a number of training courses, in particular with UNIFIL and LAF in 2019, consolidating work that has been ongoing there since 2013, including the development of an action plan to preserve heritage sites during conflict, together with the Directorate General of Antiquities.
During his tenure, Karl, together with his (then) Vice-President Peter Stone, was also responsible for the signing of an MoU with the International Committee of the Red Cross in February 2020, and on 15 June 2020, BSI and NATO Supreme Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) signed a Letter of Intent for cultural property protection.
Karl has held a lifelong interest in cultural property protection, and is a strong advocate for it at a global level. He was Vice President of the Austrian Society for the Protection of Cultural Heritage since 2003, Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Competence Center for Cultural Heritage and Cultural Property Protection at the University of Vienna since 2010, and in 2012, with Dr. Joris Kila, he was presented with the annual Award of the Association for Research into Crime against Art, for Blue Shield work in Egypt and Libya. He is an Austrian Army Cultural Property Protection Officer, first with the staff of the Military Command of Salzburg, later with the Armed Forces High Command, currently with IHSW at Staff College. He has lectured and taught worldwide through more than 500 lectures, workshops and publications, as an expert in International Humanitarian Law concerning the military aspects of Cultural Property Protection, as well as countless interviews on the protection of archaeological finds and archaeological sites, in addition to creating standards and guidelines, and supporting the training of police, armed forces, civil administration and international organizations. In addition to the protection of tangible heritage, Karl is a passionate advocate for the protection of intangible heritage, particularly languages. He is particularly insistent about the importance of working with the local population to protect sites from destruction, looting and robbery. He summed it up with the words:
Without the local community and without the local participants, that would be completely impossible.
1 also known as Karl of Austria or Karl von Österreich. In Hungary, he is known as Habsburg Károly, in the Czech Republic as Karel Habsbursko-Lotrinský, in Croatia as Karlo Habsburško-Lotarinški, in Italy as Carlo d’Asburgo-Lorena, in Spain as Carlos de Habsburgo-Lorena and in France as Charles de Habsburg-Lorraine.
Read: The work of the Blue Shield, By KARL VON HABSBURG-LOTHRINGEN in the Proceedings of the “Protecting Cultural Property: International Conference on the 20th anniversary of the 1999 Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention” 25-26 April 2019 Geneva, Switzerland, UNESCO.