The 70th anniversary of the 1954 Hague Convention

ICOM 14 May 2024

On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (Hague Convention), ICOM is taking part in the international conference organized by UNESCO in The Hague to celebrate the Convention’s achievements over recent decades, but also to discuss current and future challenges of heritage protection, including for museums

May 14, 2024, marks the 70th anniversary of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. To celebrate this occasion, UNESCO is organizing an international conference in The Hague (Netherlands) from May 13 to 15, to celebrate the existence and the importance of this convention, but also to reflect on its future orientations in the face of contemporary challenges. Responding to UNESCO’s invitation, ICOM is taking part in this event to represent the museum community’s efforts to implement this instrument, and to recall ICOM’s commitment to the Blue Shield. Alongside the International Council on Archives (ICA), the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), ICOM is one of the four founding members of the Blue Shield, an organization set up in 1996 to protect cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict and man-made or natural disasters. Since then, and to this day, ICOM has been involved as a Board member and Chair of the Blue Shield Accreditation Committee (dedicated to the creation of national committees).  

The 1954 Hague Convention, adopted under the aegis of UNESCO after the Second World War, was born of the desire to protect cultural heritage in peacetime as well as in the event of armed conflict. Considered the “mother of all conventions for the protection of cultural heritage”, it was the first multilateral treaty devoted exclusively to this subject. Operational in more ways than one, it notably commits its State Parties to establishing preventive measures for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict, to defining sanctions for non-compliance with the rules laid down by the Convention, and to creating special units within military forces responsible for the protection of cultural property.

ICOM has always played a central role in the creation and implementation of the 1954 Convention: present from the very first debates on the need to draw up such a convention in 1949, our organization has also played an active role in its evolution. Thus, at the end of 1992, faced with the increase in conflicts and their consequences for cultural heritage, States Parties, led by the Netherlands, requested a detailed study of international humanitarian law texts governing the protection of cultural heritage (monuments, museums, and others) during armed conflicts. At that time, UNESCO called on Mr. Patrick Boylan, then Vice-president of ICOM, to carry out a study (review) of the Convention (published in 1993). This, alongside other articles (see Museum International N°185 Vol XLVII, n°1, 1995, p.59) and discussions led to the drafting of the 1999 Second Protocol, which ‘introduced more rigorous protective measures, defining greater responsibility and reinforced guarantees for cultural heritage’. 

At their own level, museums also undertake work that resonates with the Hague Convention, notably through the recommendations of the ICOM code of ethics for museums, which encourage them, for example, to keep inventories of their collections or to define levels of priority for cultural goods in the event of an emergency. ICOM also supports museums in their role as a refuge for cultural property threatened by conflict, and as the focal point of the museum network when it comes to supporting museum professionals and organizing emergency rescue operations in conflict-affected areas.    

Unfortunately, it as to be said that today’s international context is still strongly marked by many multifaced conflicts. Cultural heritage continues to be under extreme threat, whether as a direct target or as collateral damage.   

In the face of this, ICOM continues to raise awareness on the importance of the Hague Convention and urges States Parties to respect their obligations in conflict situations.  This anniversary is therefore an opportunity not only to celebrate the Convention’s achievements, but also to reflect on its future. ICOM is proud to be taking part in this anniversary and is committed to continuing its efforts to encourage universal ratification and implementation of the Convention.
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