U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield

Soldier guarding the Cairo Museum after looting in 2013.

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Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict



Protection of cultural property during armed conflict has not been a generally accepted principle. Although the concept was discussed by several ancient authors, it was not until the 19th century that the first laws to prohibit destruction of cultural property during war time were enacted.

More recently, the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict has been widely accepted by most nations of the world.

In antiquity, the usual practice during armed conflict was to allot the spoils of war to the victors. Even then, however, there were some such as Polybius, Scipio Aemilianus and Cicero who objected to the practice. It was not until 1625, when the Dutch scholar and jurist, Hugo Grotius, published his legal masterpiece, De Jure Belli ac Pacis (On the Law of War and Peace) that the question of whether nations were justified in pillaging with impunity the wealth of other nations during times of war was again addressed. By the early 19th century sentiment had changed. In 1815, the works of art plundered and taken to France by Napoleon were returned to their countries of origin at the urging of the Duke of Wellington.

Laws & Treaties Protecting Cultural Property

The Lieber Code of 1863, commissioned by President Abraham Lincoln during the U.S. Civil War, set forth the principle that monuments, places of worship and works of art must be spared from destruction in times of war and became the basis in part of the Brussels Declaration of 1874, as well as the Hague Regulations on the Laws and Customs of War on Land of 1899 and 1907.

In 1943, the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) program of the Civil Affairs and Military Government Sections of the Allied armies was established, and later in the same year General Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a directive for the protection of historical monuments. Following the end of the war the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict was adopted and today 126 nations are states parties to the convention. The Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention, agreed upon in April 1999, recognized the International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS) as an advisory international organization to the inter-governmental Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. The U.S. Senate voted to ratify the convention in 2009.