The 1907 Regulations annexed to the Hague Convention IV of 1907 and Hague Convention IX are widely accepted as international customary law, and are binding on all parties in all conflicts at all times.
There are several provisions that deal with wanton or excessive destruction of civilian property – which includes cultural property. There are also specific provisions that deal with cultural property protection, dealing with attacks from land, and from the sea.
Article 23g of the Regulations annexed to Hague Convention IV states that it is forbidden to:
“To destroy or seize the enemy’s property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war.”
Article 25 of the Regulations annexed to Hague Convention IV states that:
“The attack or bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings which are undefended is prohibited.”
Article 27 of the regulations annexed to Hague Convention IV states that:
“in sieges and bombardments all necessary steps must be taken to spare, as far as possible, buildings dedicated to religion, art, science, or charitable purposes, historic monuments, hospitals, and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not being used at the time for military purposes. It is the duty of the besieged to indicate the presence of such buildings or places by distinctive and visible signs, which shall be notified to the enemy beforehand.”
Article 28 of the Hague Convention IV states:
“The pillage of a town or place, even when taken by assault, is prohibited.”
The following clauses in the 1899/1907 Hague Conventions were the first time that specific clauses on the protection of cultural property were included in widely adopted and ratified international law. They were based on earlier draft legislation – for example the US Lieber code of 1863 referenced the protection of “museums of the fine arts, or [establishments] of a scientific character” and “works of art, libraries, collections” (Articles 34-36), but this was not internationally accepted.
On 27 July 1874, 15 European States met in Brussels to examine the draft of an international agreement concerning the laws and customs of war submitted to them by the Russian Government. Although the Conference adopted the draft of the Brussels Declaration with minor alterations, not all the governments were willing to accept it as a binding convention, so it was not ratified. The Institute of International Law appointed a committee to study the Brussels Declaration, and in 1880 a Manual of the Laws and Customs of War was adopted in Oxford. Article 34 of the Oxford Manual echoed the earlier prohibition in Article 17 of the 1874 Brussels Declaration. It required combatants to take all necessary steps to spare “buildings dedicated to religion, art, science… [if] they are not being utilized at the time, directly or indirectly, for defense. It is the duty of the besieged to indicate the presence of such buildings by visible signs notified to the assailant beforehand.” (Article 34, Oxford Manual).
These formed the foundational text for the internationally accepted and ratified Hague Conventions of 1899/1907 for the protection of cultural property.
Article 56 of the Regulations annexed to Hague Convention IV states that:
“The property of municipalities, that of institutions dedicated to religion, charity and education, the arts and sciences, even when State property, shall be treated as private property.
All seizure of, destruction or wilful damage done to institutions of this character, historic monuments, works of art and science, is forbidden, and should be made the subject of legal proceedings.”
Article 5 of the Hague Convention IX deal with attacks from the sea, and states that:
“In bombardments by naval forces all the necessary measures must be taken by the commander to spare as far as possible sacred edifices, buildings used for artistic, scientific, or charitable purposes, historic monuments, hospitals, and places where the sick or wounded are collected, on the understanding that they are not used at the same time for military purposes. It is the duty of the inhabitants to indicate such monuments, edifices, or places by visible signs, which shall consist of large, stiff rectangular panels divided diagonally into two coloured triangular portions, the upper portion black, the lower portion white.”
Read the 1907 Hague Regulations (annexed to Hague Convention IV) on the ICRC International Humanitarian law website database.
Read the 1907 Hague Regulations (annexed to Hague Convention IX) on the ICRC International Humanitarian law website database.
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