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Red Cross welcomes UK move to protect cultural sites

19 May 2016

Al-Quds hospital after it was hit by airstrikes in Syria

The British Red Cross has welcomed new draft legislation aimed at protecting cultural property from acts of destruction in armed conflicts.

Announced yesterday as part of the Queen’s Speech, the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill will see the UK sign up to the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

The Bill will offer increased legal protection for objects of cultural significance, such as monuments, art and sites of archaeological interest, both in the UK and abroad.

Why culture matters

According to Michael Meyer, head of international law at the Red Cross, this is a huge step forward in tackling cultural destruction.

“This is really excellent news and it is something that we have been working on with government officials over many years,” said Meyer.

“The British Red Cross has helped to keep the matter on the agenda and it’s great to see the government making a firm commitment to protect cultural property in times of armed conflict.

“Why is the Red Cross worried about buildings and books when human lives are usually our focus?

“I will always argue that a human life is more valuable than a cultural object. But culture is essential to one’s identity.

“It’s an important factor for communities and nations. We have seen recently how armed groups in Syria have tried to destroy heritage sites in Palmyra as a means to destroy a people, or ideology.

“It has shocked the world and it is a major factor in compelling the government to introduce this new legislation.”

Greater protection

The Bill would introduce a number of measures that would enable the UK to ratify the Hague Convention and its two Protocols.

Among the measures are:

  • Enhanced protection for cultural property in the event of an armed conflict in the UK or abroad. It would be an offence to deliberately target cultural property 
  • The introduction of the Blue Shield as an emblem to signify cultural property protected under the Convention 
  • It will be an offence to deal in cultural property that has been illegally exported from an occupied territory

The Hague Convention is the only outstanding major international humanitarian law (IHL) treaty the UK has not yet ratified.

Doing so will reaffirm the UK’s leading role in IHL and help to encourage universal acceptance of the treaty and its principles.

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