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The First Protocol for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict has two unambiguous purposes. First, all High Contracting Parties must take active measures to prevent all exports of movable cultural property, as defined in the 1954 Hague Convention, from any territory that they might occupy during an armed conflict. Second, they must undertake to seize and hold, to the end of hostilities, any cultural property that was imported into their territory in contravention of the first principle of the Protocol. It also provides that such cultural property must never be retained as war reparations.
The questions of return and repatriation were not incorporated into the text of the main Convention because it was feared that some States would decline to sign the Convention if these provisions were included. Their objections were that such provisions would either harm the trade in international art and antiquities or interfere with private property rights in their counties. Thus, these provisions were removed from the final draft of the main Convention and placed in a separate legal instrument, originally known as the 1954 Protocol for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and now known as the First Protocol following the March 1999 Diplomatic Conference to update the 1954 Convention.
The First Protocol was adopted by a Diplomatic Conference in The Hague in 1954, at the same time as the main Convention, and came into force on 7 August 1956. States cannot ratify or accede to the First Protocol unless they have first ratified or acceded to the 1954 Convention. The United States is not a party to the First Protocol.