Working for the Protection of the World’s Cultural Heritage

The Blue Shield is the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross. It is the symbol specified in the 1954 Hague Convention for marking cultural sites to give them protection from attack in the event of armed conflict. It is also the name of an international committee set up in 1996 to work to protect the world’s cultural heritage threatened by wars and natural disasters.

The International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS) covers museums and archives, libraries, and monuments and sites. It brings together the knowledge, experience and international networks of the four expert organisations dealing with cultural heritage: an unrivalled body of expertise which is now available to advise and assist in responding to events such as war in former Yugoslavia and hurricane damage in Central America. ICBS is international, independent and professional.

The Mission of the ICBS is to work for the protection of the world’s cultural heritage by co-ordinating preparations to meet and respond to emergency situations. Its objectives are:

  • to facilitate international responses to threats or emergencies threatening cultural property;

  • to encourage safeguarding and respect for cultural property especially by promoting risk preparedness;

  • to train experts at national and regional level to prevent, control and recover from disasters;

  • to act in an advisory capacity for the protection of endangered heritage;

  • to consult and co-operate with other bodies including UNESCO, ICCROM and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

It achieves this by:

  • collecting and sharing information on threats to cultural property world-wide;

  • raising public awareness about damage to cultural heritage;

  • promoting good standards of risk management among those responsible for cultural heritage at all levels, from institutions to national governments;

  • working to make decision makers and professional staffs aware of the need to develop prevention, preparedness, response and recovery measures;

  • providing professional expertise to help meet emergencies;

  • identifying resources for disaster prevention and for rapid intervention in emergencies encouraging the establishment of national Blue Shield committees.

The vital work of the ICBS was recognised in the Second Protocol to the Hague Convention agreed in April 1999 by 84 countries. This gives ICBS a new role, to advise the inter-governmental Committee for Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

Local Blue Shield Action

It is vital that the international initiative is taken up and supported by local initiatives. Blue Shield Committees are being formed in a number of countries. They bring together the different professions, local and national government, the emergency services and the armed forces. They provide a forum for them to improve emergency preparedness by sharing experiences and exchanging information. They provide a focus for raising national awareness of the threats to cultural heritage. They promote the ratification and implementation by national governments of the Hague Convention.

ICBS is formed by four non-governmental organisations:

  • ICA - the International Council on Archives

  • ICOM - the International Council of Museums

  • ICOMOS - the International Council on Monuments and Sites

  • IFLA - the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.

Requirements for National Committees of the Blue Shield

The following requirements are to be met by national initiatives that wish to seek recognition as national Blue Shield committees.

1. Initiatives for establishing a national committee of the Blue Shield should fully recognise the ICBS Charter as adopted by ICBS in Strasbourg, 14 April 2000:

In order to protect endangered cultural heritage, the International Committee of the Blue Shield has been created in 1996 by the four non-governmental organisations, which represent professionals active in the fields of archives, libraries, monuments and sites, and museums.

In the framework of the Hague Convention (1954) for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict, ICA (International Council on Archives), ICOM (International Council of Museums), ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites), and IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) have taken up the emblem of the Convention as symbol of the International Committee of the Blue Shield.

The four organisations have decided to work together to prepare for, and respond to, emergency situations in case of armed conflict or natural disaster that could affect cultural heritage. They respect the following principles:

  • joint actions

  • independence

  • neutrality

  • professionalism

  • respect of cultural identity

  • work on a not-for-profit basis.

2. Initiatives for establishing a national committee of the Blue Shield should have the support of the national representatives of all four non-governmental organisations listed above, which together form the ICBS. In case of doubt, the bureaux of the four non-governmental organisations will decide on the respective representational claims.

3. An appropriate representative of initiatives to establish a national committee of the Blue Shield should inform the ICBS of the membership, contact addresses, meeting schedules and agendas and relevant national events of the proposed national committee.

4. An appropriate person or organisation on behalf of initiatives to establish a national committee of the Blue Shield may request the ICBS to grant official recognition. The ICBS has the sole right to decide whether to accord such recognition.

Approved by the International Committee of the Blue Shield at its meeting in Paris, 8th June 2001.

Secrétaire ICBS Secretary
Christiane Logie
boulevard de l’Empereur 4
1000 Brussels - Belgium
Tel/Fax 32 (0)2 519 54 40