The Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954) and additional protocols

The Convention, stipulated in The Hague and ratified in Italy in 1958, inspired by the principles established in the Conventions of 1899 and 1907 and in the Washington Pact of 15 April 1935, governs the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict. The agreement was followed by two protocols, aimed at supplementing its contents and specifying the application methods.

The convention considers assets, whether movable or immovable, of great importance for cultural heritage as ‘cultural properties’ and describes their characteristics in Article 1, establishing that the protection of such properties involves their safeguarding and respect.

Furthermore it:

  • requires States Parties to refrain from using cultural property, their protective devices and their immediate vicinity, for purposes that could expose them to destruction or deterioration in cases of armed conflict and from any act of hostility, vandalism or retaliation against them;
  • regulates the matter in the event of total or partial occupation of the territory of other States Parties, requiring the support of the action of the competent national authorities and the adoption of the necessary conservation measures, in close collaboration with these authorities;
  • prepares, within the Armed Forces, specialised personnel for the surveillance of cultural properties;
  • establishes a ‘special protection’ regime for a limited number of shelters intended to protect movable cultural property in the event of armed conflict, monumental centres and other cultural property under certain conditions clarified by articles 2 to 6. The specifically marked properties under protection are considered immune from any act of hostility and use for military purposes. The agreement also provides for the possibility of suspension of immunity in case of violation of the commitments by the State Party and regulates the methods.

Considering the complexity of implementing the Convention, its drafting was followed by a protocol which laid out the operational procedures for the management of the cultural properties falling on occupied territories during an armed conflict.

With the aim of further supplementing the contents of the treaty and aligning with the development of international law, a second protocol was adopted in May 1999 aimed at simplifying the application of the ‘special protection’ regime.

In particular, pursuant to Article 10 of that protocol, a cultural property can be placed under enhanced protection if it meets the following conditions:

  • it is a cultural heritage that is of great importance for humanity;
  • it is protected by appropriate internal, legal and administrative measures which recognise its outstanding cultural and historical value and which guarantee the highest level of protection;
  • it is not used for military purposes or to protect military sites and the State under whose control it is located has confirmed in a statement that it will not be used for such purposes.