On 12th December 2017 the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Act entered into force in the United Kingdom. (1) This legislation enabled the UK, finally, to ratify the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (2) (the Hague Convention) which had been adopted by UNESCO (3) in 1954, in the wake of the large-scale destruction of cultural heritage during the Second World War. The main objective of the conference on 29th November 2018 organised by the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), in partnership with UK Armed Forces and the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) was to consider exactly what the ratification might mean for the UK and its cultural institutions in practice.
One of the key obligations for States Parties to the Hague Convention is to prepare in peacetime for the safeguarding of cultural property against the effects of armed conflict. (4) As the first anniversary of the ratification approached, this conference drew together a broad spectrum of experts from the military, academia, NGOs, the Government and the security sector to consider how the UK has approached this obligation to date, what could be learnt from other jurisdictions and from past experiences and what further steps might be required.
The keynote speech was delivered by Michael Ellis MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, DCMS) who focused on the role of the UK on the international stage, re-confirming the Government's commitment to protect cultural property in the face of arbitrary devastation and wanton destruction. He stated that the Government would take every opportunity to build the capacity required to maintain rules-based international order, highlighting the projects already underway with the support of the Government's 30 million [pounds sterling] Cultural Protection Fund. (5) Not only are these initiatives delivering increased understanding and knowledge but they are also fostering broader benefits such as jobs and economic security, helping to transform lives and communities. At a political level, such action is heralded as enhancing the UK's reputation on the international stage and bolstering its soft power.
Vernon Rapley, Director of Cultural Heritage Protection and Security at the V&A, spoke of the pioneering work being undertaken by the V&A through its admirable Culture in Crisis programme. This initiative provides a forum for sharing information, supporting...