Temple of Bel in Palmyra. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Photo: Longbow4u.
Toby Helm, Britain signs convention on protecting treasures in war zones, The Guardian, 21 June 2015
It’s come years late, but the culture secretary is to pledge the UK to helping save historic and artistic artefacts under threat in conflict-torn countries.
Britain is to end years of indecision by ratifying an international agreement aimed at preventing the loss of cultural and historic artefacts in conflict zones, amid growing outrage at the destruction by Isis militants of ancient sites in Iraq and Syria.
The culture secretary, John Whittingdale, is to introduce legislation that will finally sign the UK up to the 1954 Hague Convention [for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict], set up after the second world war to protect archaeological and historical sites, works of art, manuscripts, books and other objects.
About 115 countries have ratified the convention but over the years the UK government has cited a range of reasons for not following suit, including lack of parliamentary time and a belief that this is not an effective way to protect such treasures. One concern is believed to have been that ratification might leave the country open to renewed pressure to return the Elgin marbles to Greece, although there is nothing in the convention that would bind the UK to do so.