The Case for Changes in International Law in the Aftermath of the 2003 Gulf War

February, 2006


The 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict was written in response to the large-scale intentional destruction and damage to cultural property perpetrated by Nazi Germany during World War II. Following the Balkan Wars, the Convention was updated in its Second Protocol of 1999. Despite this updating, the 2003 war and subsequent occupation of Iraq have demonstrated additional shortcomings of the Convention and its Protocols.

Among these shortcomings is the failure of the Convention and its Protocols to impose an explicit obligation to preserve cultural sites, monuments and repositories 1) during active hostilities to the extent feasible, and 2) during occupation, not only from the acts of its own military but also from acts of the local population. The Convention should also require occupying powers to facilitate assessment of the damage done to cultural sites and monuments at the conclusion of hostilities.

Perhaps most significant, the Conventions fails to incorporate commonly accepted principles of cultural resource management. Such principles include assessment of damage that may be caused to cultural resources through construction and other infrastructure project, and a requirement to mitigate such damage, either through project relocation or survey and salvage work. These principles are routinely incorporated as part of federal construction projects within the United States, including military construction, and apply to U.S. undertakings in other countries under certain circumstances through the National Historic Preservation Act. Similar principles are also part of UNESCO's Recommendation Concerning the Preservation of Cultural Property Endangered by Public or Private Works.

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