Cultural policy Heritage News United Kingdom

Is it time the UK ratified the Hague Convention?

Labour’s shadow culture minister urges the new secretary to protect cultural heritage

Get your pen out: shadow culture minister Helen Goodman says there is “no excuse” for Sajid Javid to not ratify the treaty

Cultural and political figures are calling on the British government to sign up to the Hague Convention, which provides protection for a country’s heritage in times of conflict. Writing in the Guardian newspaper on 15 April, Helen Goodman, the Labour MP and shadow culture minister, says there is “no excuse” for Sajid Javid, the new Conservative secretary of state for culture, media and sport, to not ratify the treaty.

“The convention prohibits looting, theft, vandalism and reprisals against cultural property,” Goodman writes. “Importantly, it also forbids the export of cultural property from occupied territories and makes provision for the return of objects deposited with third-party territories for safekeeping during conflict.” Goodman points out that the UK is “one of the only Western powers not to have ratified the convention”. Goodman’s comments echo similar advice given by The Art Newspaper’s editor Jane Morris in a prompt from the BBC. “We really ought to [ratify] the Hague Convention,” she told the news service last week. “It’s something the DCMS [Department of Culture, Media and Sport] could take a lead on, in tandem with the Foreign Office.”

The shadow minister asks Javid to introduce the necessary legislation at the beginning of the parliamentary year in June. Labour MPs will back the move, Goodman says. The previous Labour government drafted the Heritage Protection Bill, which paved the way for the ratification of the Hague convention, but the bill was dropped in 2009 following the economic crisis. Javid, who was appointed the secretary of state for culture on 9 April after Maria Miller resigned over controversy surrounding her expenses claims, could not be reached for comment.

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22 Apr 14
16:58 CET


The strongest provisions, especially on preservation of cultural heritage, are in the two Protocols to the Convention - one in 1954 on preventing looting and on return of illegally taken property and the other in 1999 which greatly expanded the rules of implementation and the responsibilities of foreign troops in occupation. Australia, Canada and the United States have all ratified the 1954 Convention, but only Canada has ratified the two Protocols. This is disgraceful. The United States became a party to the Convention in 2009 but has taken no action on either of the Protocols although it was involved in their negotiation -- very actively in the case of the Second Protocol which is a very significant instrument. It is really disappointing, indeed appalling, and illustrative of current UK government policies that it has not yet ratified even the Convention, the minimal basic international agreement, 60 years after its making.

17 Apr 14
15:48 CET


This would continue the Duke of Wellington's groundbreaking work after the defeat of Napoleon

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