Tuesday 24 November 2015

Open letter to the UK Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale

In the latest round of the UK Blue Shield-BISI campaign for the ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention, today I sent the following open letter to UK Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, encouraging him to act on the announcement he made last June.

Rt Hon John Whittingdale
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

November 2015

Dear Mr Whittingdale

Ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention
and the UK Cultural Property Protection Fund

As representatives of some of the UK's leading cultural heritage organisations we, the undersigned, were delighted when last June the Government publicly announced its decision to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its associated protocols. This legislation will give enormous support to the Armed Forces’ ambitions to support local communities in the areas in which it is militarily engaged.

We are also hugely supportive of the Government's intention to create a Cultural Property Protection Fund, as announced in the same press release. In particular we endorse the proposal that has already been put to you by Peter Stone, UNESCO Professor of Culture Property Protection and Peace at Newcastle University, Chair of the UK Committee of the Blue Shield and cultural property advisor to the UK Government during the Iraq War of 2003. He recommends that the Fund be concentrated on five areas of activity, namely:

  • A co-ordination centre, with a staff of three or four, to act as a practical hub for networking, liaison, and communication for the complex web of academic, NGO professional, governmental, and military expertise in the area, to ensure minimal reduplication of effort. This is, in our opinion, the top priority for funding now.
  • Training for individuals and organisations in the practicalities of Cultural Property Protection, facilitated by the co-ordination centre.
  • Developing and implementing procedures for proactive protection of Cultural Property for countries such as Lebanon, which are at under real risk, where proactive protection could be implemented now and from which international guidelines could be developed.
  • Emergency response protocols to deliver rapid, specialised assessment and initial conservation first aid to countries suffering from conflict or environmental disaster.
  • Long-term support for Cultural Property in post-conflict and post-disaster zones, such as post- earthquake Nepal.

We thank you again for all your efforts to make the UK a leader in international Cultural Property Protection and look forward to concrete news soon of the parliamentary schedule for ratification, and of the budget and remit of the Cultural Property Fund. We would be happy to be of assistance in any way we can.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Eleanor Robson
Chair of Council
British Institute for the Study of Iraq

Dr Mike Heyworth, MBE
Council for British Archaeology

Mr Peter Hinton
Chief Executive
Chartered Institute of Archaeologists

Ms Sharon Heal
Museums Association

Ms Kate Pugh, OBE
Chief Executive
The Heritage Alliance

Mr Julian Radcliffe
The Art Loss Register

Dr Neil Brodie
Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research
University of Glasgow

Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe
Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology
University of Oxford

Mr Philip Deans
Doctoral Research Student
School of Arts and Cultures
Newcastle University

Dr Paul Fox
University of York

Dr Nigel Pollard
Associate Professor of Ancient History
Swansea University

Mr Robert Bevan
Architecture Critic of The Evening Standard

Dr Bijan Rouhani
Vice Chair
ICOMOS Working Group on Syria and Iraq

Mr Peter A. Clayton
Member of the Treasure Valuation Committee
The British Museum

Dr Robert Bewley
Project Director
Endangered Archaeology of the Middle East and North Africa Project
University of Oxford

Professor Graham Philip
Department of Archaeology
Durham University

You'll also find this letter on the Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of UKBS and BISI, for you to like and share. You're equally welcome to redistribute it in any other convenient way, but please let us know, for the record if you so.

As always, I'll post an update as soon as I have news.

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