Renewed Support for the Protection of Cultural Property in Armed Conflict
Seventeen years after the controversial Second Protocol to the Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in Armed Conflicts was adopted under UNESCO, two of the world’s initial critics of the Second Protocol have declared their intentions to ratify the protocol and join the treaty. Earlier this year, a ratification bill moved through the United Kingdom’s Parliament and commentators expect it to pass in early 2017. Just this week art journalists reported France’s intention that it too would ratify the Second Protocol in response to the devastation of cultural property in Iraq and Syria. In light of both this renewed support and the continued conflict in that region of the Middle East, the United States should drop its opposition to the Second Protocol and (swiftly) ratify it.
The 1954 Convention was adopted as a response to the breathtaking destruction of cultural heritage suffered during World War II. The Second Protocol complements the Convention in several key ways. For example, according to Article 8 of the Second Protocol, Parties to a conflict are supposed to remove or provide adequate protection to movable cultural property, and to avoid placing military resources close to any cultural property. Parties have preparatory obligations in time of peace for “the safeguarding of cultural property against the foreseeable effects of an armed conflict.” In addition, the Second Protocol lists categories of violations as an important step to clarifying the types of categories of offenses that trigger ramifications under the Convention and the Second Protocol.
Lastly, but probably the greatest source of consternation for some Western powers, are the granting of waivers on the basis of imperative military necessity. By way of example, the Second Protocol sets forth important limitations on circumstances in which waivers can be granted, but goes further to address prior complaints about the ambiguity of the concept of “imperative military necessity” or a waiver.
Ratifying the Second Protocol would also give the United States influence over the composition of the Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, a committee created by the Second Protocol. Parties to the Second Protocol elect the Committee. As of this writing, the Committee has not actively ruled on requests for enhanced protection of cultural property. However, the Second Protocol allows it to assume additional responsibilities at the assignment of the Parties. Such additional responsibilities could include further shaping the definition of an “imperative military necessity,” or helping to design protection programs within the parameters of the Convention.
Ratifying the Second Protocol is important for a number of reasons. In addition to the key terms of the Second Protocol, the ratification would send an important signal to the world and especially to the people who feel a personal or cultural connection to such heritage. Ratification of the protocol would be a further complement to the Memorandum of Understanding signed on December 1, 2016, by Egypt and the United States to impose restrictions on the importation of illicit antiquities into the U.S. from Egypt. As we have seen with ISIL, the public obliteration of cultural property offers that particular enterprise much-craved worldwide notoriety and a chance to steal cultural history and identity from others. Not only that, looting of such property is a lucrative endeavor and further ensures that the potential permanent loss of such property to black markets.