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Protecting cultural treasures during war

Ministers’ release: 8 April 2007

Prime Minister and Minister for Arts, Culture, and Heritage Helen Clark today released a discussion paper about New Zealand's ratification of a key international treaty set up to protect significant cultural treasures in time of war.

Helen Clark said that in 1954, New Zealand signed the Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. It has yet to ratify the original Convention and First Protocol, or the Second Protocol signed in 1999.

“The Convention and its two important protocols are the key international documents seeking to protect cultural heritage during armed conflict.

"New Zealand’s forces overseas already operate in broad accordance with the Convention. Ratification will make this high standard of conduct by our military more visible.”

“An early issue we need to resolve is exactly what New Zealand cultural property will qualify for protection under this Convention. Cultural property must be of ‘great importance’ for New Zealand in order to be protected. This is a high threshold, and not all cultural property will qualify.”

“A group of key sector representatives helped to compile an indicative list of cultural property for protection, which is presented in the consultation document as a starting point for discussion.

Helen Clark said it had not been possible to identify an indicative list of Mâori cultural heritage. A more complete list would be developed through the consultation process.

“Another key issue concerns what property should be placed under enhanced protection, should New Zealand accede to the Second Protocol. Cultural property of this kind must be of ‘the greatest importance for humanity’, and is consequently a highly restricted category.

“We also need to resolve whether protection should be compulsory if the property qualifies under the definition of cultural property.”

Helen Clark said that the consultation period would run over eight weeks, beginning in mid April, and ending on 15 June.

“I encourage museums, libraries, iwi, archives, heritage organisations, scientific institutes, and others to participate in this important exercise,” Helen Clark said.

Copies of the consultation paper are available on the Ministry for Culture and Heritage’s website,

Updated on 7th October 2019