Further pressure is being put on the UK Government to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. The Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor has called on the UK Government to explain why it has not signed up the 1954 Convention: The Times, 5 June 2015. His plea comes within the context of a disclosure that the British Museum is holding a precious object illegally removed from Syria in the hope of returning it when the country is stable. Similar efforts were made to protect antiquities from the conflict zone of Afghanistan and these are now being returned. In 2012, as many as 850 antiquities, worth a total of about £1 million, were returned to Afghanistan after being confiscated and passed to the British Museum for safekeeping. The news was not made public until they were safely back in the national museum in Kabul.
Mr MacGregor’s plea adds further weight to previous calls for the UK Government to ratify the 1954 Convention: in July 2014 a group of around 100 leading figures from the museums and antiquities worlds signed a letter to the Telegraph to the same effect, pointing out that Britain is the most significant worldwide military power not to have ratified the convention, the United States having done so in 2009.
A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said that the Government would seek to legislate on the Convention “as soon as parliamentary time allows”.
For an article-by-article commentary on the 1954 Convention and its two Protocols, see War and Cultural Heritage by Kevin Chamberlain (second edition 2013, IAL).