International Legal Protection for Culture at Risk in War
Jadranka Petrovic, 'International Legal Protection for Culture at Risk in War' (2016) Issue 2 International Humanitarian Law Magazine 18
Posted: 6 Nov 2017
Date Written: November 3, 2017
Cultural objects have been innocent victims of warfare from time immemorial. While some destruction has been incidental, frequently objects which are today considered 'cultural property' have been targeted willfully. These include immovable structures (eg, buildings and bridges) and movable objects (eg, artworks, books) which have architectural, historical, artistic, archaeological or scientific interest. The deliberate destruction of the world's largest Buddha statutes in Afghanistan, the looting of Iraq's national museum and the ongoing cultural onslaught on Aleppo, Palmyra and other cultural property sites in Syria, are the recent grim reminders that cultural wrongs ate not buried in the past. In fact, since the 1990s, with the changing nature of armed conflict and the escalation of terrorism and other non-conventional methods of warfare, the mistreatment of cultural property has intensified.
Cultural property - with its symbolic, identity-generating and economic dimensions - has increasingly become the target of deliberate and systematic attacks. This is often done with the aim to belittle, humiliate and shock the 'other', permanently scare them away from their territory, 'erase' the past and provoke public outrage. It has been observed - particularly in relation to ISIS (the armed group which has brutally destroyed cultural heritage in present day Iraq and Syria) and the powerful tools they use for disseminating their savage acts - that the loss of human life has become such a regular feature in the coverage of conflict that it often takes something beyond the 'ordinary' to draw attention. These acts and similarly vicious approaches to cultural property are in disturbing dissonance with law.
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