Britain to sign up to 1954 Hague Convention on protecting world's ancient cultural sites

The Culture Secretary will also announce details of a summit to co-ordinate responses to the threat to ancient sites in Iraq and Syria

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The Independent Online

The Government is to sign up to the 1954 Hague Convention on protecting the world’s ancient cultural sites and create a fund to help with the recovery of monuments at risk from destruction and looting by Islamic State.

John Whittingdale, the Culture Secretary, will also announce details of a summit in September to co-ordinate responses to the threat to ancient sites in Iraq and Syria, including Palmyra, which was seized by IS last month.

Neil MacGregor, the outgoing director of the British Museum, had urged ministers to do more to protect cultural treasures, including offering UK-trained archaeological experts to recover antiquities at risk from looting and war, and bring in legislation to ratify the Hague Convention and enshrine it into UK law. Britain is the only member of the UN Security Council not to have ratified the convention.

While the UK’s ratification will not directly stop IS from looting sites such as Palmyra, Mr MacGregor said it was essential that the Government signed up to show commitment to the protection of cultural artefacts.

The amount of money for the fund, designed “to help safeguard the heritage of countries affected by conflict or at risk of coming under attack for ideological reasons”, is expected to be announced by George Osborne in next month’s Budget.

The summit will include cabinet ministers, experts from the British Museum, V&A and British Council, Unesco and the Red Cross, to advise on the proposed new legislation.

Mr Whittingdale said: “The wanton destruction [in Syria and Iraq] that has already taken place is inflicting even further suffering on countries undergoing the worst humanitarian crisis of a generation. 

“The loss of a country’s heritage threatens its very identity. The knowledge and expertise of the experts in our cultural institutions makes us uniquely qualified to help. I believe the UK therefore has a vital responsibility to support cultural protection overseas and recent events have confirmed the urgency of this.”

Mr MacGregor said he was “delighted” the Government is to ratify the Hague Convention.

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