The Impact of Conflict on Cultural Property

The following research was completed in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Science in Conservation of the Historic Environment at the University of Reading (College of Estate Management) in February 2014.


Cultural property has, by accident or by design, been the victim of conflict for time immemorial. Hundreds and thousands of historically important buildings and sites have been, and continue to be, destroyed during times of armed conflict. The 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict seeks to protect cultural property but is ineffective and offers little meaningful protection.

The purpose of this research is to understand the nature of conflict and thus the reasons why existing protection is unsuccessful. A logical methodology runs throughout the research that considers what cultural property is, what sites are being protected, how they are being protected, what they are being protected from and what happens in reality when trying to implement that protection. Case study examples are used to demonstrate scenarios where the Hague Convention perhaps should have worked but instead failed. Finally the conclusions consider the effectiveness of existing protection and ways it may be enhanced through future development.

Using documentary research, the study was designed to bring together existing information relating to the impact of conflict on cultural property so to present it in a comprehensive and holistic way. Armed conflict is a multi-disciplinary phenomenon and requires collation of data relating to war, politics, sociology and conservation. The research is a conceptual overview of cultural property protection and develops key themes such as peacetime preparation, effective engagement with states, intent and capacity, clarity and dissemination of information and education.

It is concluded that the Hague Convention is indeed ineffective in its current form and requires development. Unification of existing cultural property legislation is considered, including the 1972 World Heritage Convention, to provide absolute clarity regarding what is protected and what is expected of states and military personnel. Development of cultural property protection will take a considerable period of time and must be preceded by comprehensive international and multi-disciplinary research. This research forms a sound base for future developments.


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