Practice Relating to Rule 41. Export and Return of Cultural Property in Occupied Territory
In 2005, during a debate in the House of Commons, the Parliamentary Secretary to Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources stated the following on Bill S-37 (An Act to amend the Criminal Code and Cultural Property Export and Import Act):
There are two protocols to the [1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property]. The first protocol, adopted in 1954, establishes obligations, among other things, to return cultural property that has been taken illegally from an occupied territory. The second protocol, adopted by UNESCO in 1999, expands on many of the concepts of the convention and the first protocol. One of the most important aspects of the second protocol is the range of obligation it creates for states to prosecute those who commit certain acts against cultural heritage during armed conflict. This is what I mean when I talk about the mutual responsibility of states to protect heritage.
These aspects of the Hague protocol speak directly to that responsibility. It means that if a country is occupied and someone illegally exports cultural material, the country can look to others for help in getting the material back. It means that a state commits to pursuing those found to be in its territory who have damaged, destroyed or looted cultural property during conflicts in other countries. It means that cultural heritage is important to us all and that we have a collective responsibility to help each other protect it.
The Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act establishes the authority in Canadian law to prosecute war crimes. That includes acts against culture property that are prohibited under the protocols to the Geneva convention and similar acts prohibited under the Hague convention. Further, the National Defence Act has already established obligations for conduct of our armed forces that mirror obligations on the military under the Hague convention and its protocols.
[Bill S-37] amends the Criminal Code. It will allow us to prosecute Canadians who commit acts such as theft, arson and vandalism against significant cultural property abroad. Such acts are specifically prohibited under the second protocol and states who join that protocol must be able to prosecute those who commit them.
Bill S-37 also amends the Cultural Property Export and Import Act. It will allow us to prosecute Canadians who illegally export cultural property. Right now we can do it only if they import to Canada. It will allow us to prosecute those who illegally export cultural property from an occupied territory that is party to the second protocol. Again, such exports are prohibited under both protocols and the second protocol requires states to prosecute those who commit such acts.
It will strengthen Canada’s role in returning cultural property that has been illegally exported from an occupied territory. It will also acknowledge that when Canada is asked to accept cultural property for safe keeping by another country that is in conflict, we have an obligation to return it at the end of that conflict.