International Legal Protection of Cultural Heritage in Armed Conflict: Achievements and Developments

23 Pages Posted: 26 May 2020

See all articles by Riccardo Pavoni

Riccardo Pavoni

University of Siena - Department of Law

Date Written: May 16, 2020


The recent statement by President Donald Trump, according to which he was ready to strike at 52 sites in Iran – some of them of primary cultural importance – in response to possible attacks against United States targets in the aftermath of the killing of General Soleimani, has been met with outrage by many international observers, while the Pentagon hastened to distance itself from ‘its’ President.

These reactions shed light on the fundamental importance that the international community presently attaches to the safeguarding of cultural property in times of armed conflict, in particular that property of outstanding universal value that should be considered part of the world cultural heritage, such as the many Iranian sites that provide testimony of some of the most ancient civilizations.

This paper will first summarize the existing legal framework for the protection of cultural property in times of war and the main problems associated with it. That framework will then be revisited in light of the various developments arising from the normative and judicial practice which has emerged, to an unprecedented extent, in the context of recent cultural crises and tragedies caused by armed conflict. Developments relating to customary law, individual criminal responsibility and the activities of the UN Security Council in this area are especially analyzed.

The paper concludes that, ultimately, all conditions are in place for the protection of cultural heritage in armed conflict to take further steps forward, for example by strengthening the ban on the use of cultural property for military purposes, or by increasing the legal and political synergies between UNESCO’s work, chiefly in safeguarding the world heritage, and that of the institutions most involved in the military and humanitarian field.

Keywords: cultural heritage, armed conflict, military necessity, non-state armed groups, customary law, individual criminal responsibility, Security Council

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Pavoni, Riccardo, International Legal Protection of Cultural Heritage in Armed Conflict: Achievements and Developments (May 16, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Riccardo Pavoni (Contact Author)

University of Siena - Department of Law ( email )

Via P.A. Mattioli 10
Siena, 53100

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