New Zealand cemented its international obligations to protect cultural property from destruction or theft in times of war in a law passed through Parliament on Thursday.
The Cultural Property (Protection in Armed Conflict) Bill strengthened the current operational practice New Zealand forces overseas with respect to protecting cultural property in war zones, Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Chris Finlayson said in a statement.
It made acts against cultural property, such as vandalism or attacks during times of armed conflict, an offense, and made the removal of cultural property from occupied territory and dealing in such property criminal offenses.
"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," Finlayson said.
The Bill related to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, commonly called the 1954 Hague Convention, which was a specific response to the widespread destruction of significant cultural property in the Second World War.
It recognized that mutual commitment between nations was 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 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 Finlayson.
"Cultural property" under the Bill included important cultural heritage as well as the buildings in which it was 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.