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NZ signs up to protect culture and heritage in war

A bill that gives effect to New Zealand’s international obligations to protect cultural property from destruction or theft in times of war was passed by the House at the end of last year.  The Cultural Property (Protection in Armed Conflict) Bill strengthens the current operational practice of armed services personnel overseas with respect to protecting cultural property in war zones.  The bill make acts against cultural property such as vandalism or attacks during times of armed conflict an offence, and makes the removal of cultural property from occupied territory and dealing in such property criminal offences.

“This bill reinforces New Zealand’s role as a good international citizen by fully joining us up to the system of international measures to dissuade would-be traffickers of stolen cultural goods,” Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Mr Finlayson said.

The bill relates to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict – commonly called the 1954 Hague Convention.  The Hague Convention was a specific response to the widespread destruction of cultural significant property in the Second World War.  It recognises that mutual commitment between nations is necessary in order to protect the world’s cultural heritage from the consequences of war.  New Zealand ratified the Convention in 2008 but legislation was required before New Zealand could accede to (comply with) the Convention and its two Protocols.

“While there may seem to be little likelihood of New Zealand being the subject of armed attack by another nation, listing significant cultural property to be protected is an important function of the Convention,” said Mr Finlayson.  “Cultural property” under the bill includes important cultural heritage as well as the buildings in which it is held. For example, major museums, art galleries and libraries, nationally important archives and scientific collections, and registers of births, deaths and marriages, land information, citizenship and protected objects.

In New Zealand, category 1 historic places and registered wahi tapu are also likely to be included, along with the list of national historic landmarks currently being considered by the government.

(Based on information released by Manatū Taonga – Ministry for Culture & Heritage, New Zealand 6 December 2012)