Cultural policy Antiquities and Archaeology Conservation United Kingdom

Experts condemn British government for failure to ratify convention protecting cultural property

Crossbench peer leads criticism of repeated delays despite widespread looting in Syria

Destruction in Aleppo, Syria

Politicians and leading archaeologists have criticised the British government for failing to ratify the Hague Convention in the current parliamentary session. MPs and peers lobbied the government to introduce the necessary legislation at the beginning of the parliamentary year in June, but no bill was included. The Hague Convention was originally drawn up in 1954 and amended in 1999 to protect cultural property in the event of armed conflict. The UK is the only major Western power that has not ratified the treaty.

In a letter published in the Daily Telegraph newspaper today, 21 July, Nicholas Trench, the Earl of Clancarty who is a Crossbench peer, described Britain’s failure to ratify the treaty as “mystifying”. Trench said that in 2008, a draft Cultural Property Protection (Armed Conflict) Bill passed through parliament with minor revisions. “Ministers of successive governments have pledged their commitment to ratification as soon as parliamentary time can be found… The latest Queen’s Speech left ample parliamentary time free to pass additional legislation in the current session,” he said.

The letter has been co-signed by nearly 100 supporters and experts from the art world, including David Anderson, the president of the Museums Association who is also the director of National Museum Wales; Laurie Magnus, the chairman of English Heritage; the historian David Starkey, and Lord Renfrew, a fellow peer and chairman of the all-party parliamentary archaeology group.

Trench had earlier expressed his disappointment with the Coalition government’s lack of action during a sitting in the House of Lords on 11 June, stressing the importance of protecting cultural sites during conflict. “In Syria, the looting that has devastated archaeological sites is also a means by which fighting is financed and therefore prolonged. Protecting culture helps with rebuilding a country in social and economic terms,” he said. “Why, after 60 years, has Britain still not ratified? The sense is that, as with all matters cultural, which end up low down in the political pecking order, it has simply neglected to do so. It is high time that the government put this right."

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Comments

30 Jul 14
22:16 CET

GLYN THOMPSON, LEEDS

This governennt wouldn't know what cultural property was if it bit it on the spolium.

30 Jul 14
22:16 CET

PATRICIA NISSAIRE , LONDON

Stop slipping through unwanted legislation and concentrate on important matters.

30 Jul 14
22:20 CET

G. J. TASSIE, BERLIN

This convention was drawn up after WWII to protect cultural property, because of the loss that countries such as the UK sustained in that conflict. As such the UK should be one of the keenest countries to ratify the convention, not bury its head in the sand. It is time that the UK Govt. started to invest more heavily in culture, in fact there should be a minister devoted just to culture and heritage and a separate one for sport.

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