Academic journal article Antiquity

A Four-Tier Approach to the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict

Academic journal article Antiquity

A Four-Tier Approach to the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict

Article excerpt

The legal basis

It seems inevitable that armed conflict will have a detrimental impact on cultural property. The mitigation of such impact has been discussed for millennia (Miles 2011) and more recently, building on the 1863 Lieber Code produced during the American Civil War, the international community has attempted to limit such damage through treaties and conventions (e.g. see Boylan 2002). Currently the primary piece ofinternational legislation relating to cultural property protection (CPP) during conflict is the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two protocols of 1954 and 1999 (hereafter the 1954 Hague Convention). CPP is also now accepted more broadly as an obligation codified as part of international humanitarian law (IHL), in particular the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions (Articles 53 and 8514][d]) and the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Articles 8[2] [b] [ix] and 8[2] [e] [iv]) (and see Toman 1996; Hensel 2007; Gerstenblith 2009). IHL also stresses that occupying forces should not withdraw until there are competent and effective authorities to whom governance can be handed over. No-one implies that CPP in times of armed conflict is easy (e.g. see Bevan 2006; Yahya 2008) but the responsibility of belligerents to include it in their planning, under IHL, is unequivocal.

However, as events in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and, perhaps in particular, Iraq, have demonstrated, the implementation--both at a policy and tactical level--of the 1954 Hague Convention and other relevant IHL leaves much to be desired (Figure 1). This article proposes a four-tier approach to the protection of cultural property in wartime, and it draws on the author's own experience in working with the military.


It must be stressed that the military is only one player in a theatre that also involves politicians, civil servants, governmental and non-governmental authorities and agencies. Other types of cultural property (the contents of libraries, archives, art galleries etc.) are also equally at risk. I use here the more legal term cultural property (as used in the 1954 Hague Convention) rather than the more common term cultural heritage. This is to make a not very comfortable distinction between tangible and intangible cultural heritage and, more importantly, to distinguish between the work going on in relation to the 1954 Hague Convention and the anthropology-based work of so-called 'Human Terrain Teams' deployed by the USA in Afghanistan and Iraq (AAA-CEAUSSIC 2009 [for a list of organisational acronyms, see Appendix]) and the UK's recently created Defence Cultural Specialist Unit (DCSU 2011). It is accepted that the distinction is an artificial one and Kila (2012) prefers to use the term 'cultural resources'. However, while the two remain inextricably linked in reality, for the sake of focus the distinction is maintained in this text. The point should also be emphasised that, contrary to some speculation, there is absolutely no presumption, or implication, that cultural property related to western culture, or cultural property assimilated by western culture, has any greater call on protection than any other cultural property; nor is there any implication that cultural property dating to any particular chronological period should have priority over that dating to any other period.

Recent studies

A great deal has been written concerning the destruction and looting of cultural property in Iraq that followed the 2003 invasion by the coalition led by the USA and the UK (e.g. Foster et al. 2005; Polk & Schuster 2005; Stone & Farchakh Bajjaly 2008; Rothfield 2009) and the events have been the topic of a large number of seminars and conferences. The first PhD to study the issue has just been passed at the University of Amsterdam (Kila 2012) and another grant offered, at Deakin University in Melbourne, to carry out PhD research on 'measuring the destruction of heritage and spikes of violence in Iraq'. …

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