Oct 1, 2008

United States Senate Finally Ratifies the 1954 Hague Convention


On September 25th, the Senate gave its advice and consent and ratified the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. The treaty was submitted to the Senate by President Clinton in 1999. You can read the statement submitted by the Lawyers Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, and other heritage advocacy groups here.

Pictured here is a "Blue Shield" in Austria I pulled from Flickr. The text reads:

"Protected by the convention of The Hague, dated 14 May 1954, for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict. (BGBI. No. 58 3rd April 1964)."

I'm a bit surprised the ratification has not made any papers yet. Though a Presidential election and a world banking collapse certainly are taking their share of headlines; part of the reason may be that the Hague Convention was designed to prevent the kind of theft and widescale destruction which took place in World War II, as Larry Rothfield correctly points out.

As Rothfield notes:

A new and quite distinct danger has emerged in the half-century since the 1954 Convention, however. It comes not from military action, but from military inaction in the face of looting by civilians, fueled by the global market for antiquities that has boomed over the last few decades. While Hague leads the military to [focus] on avoiding harm, it imposes no requirement to actively protect cultural sites against the harm that comes from the breakdown in law and order and the concomitant surge in market-driven looting. The obligations it imposes on occupying powers, in fact, seem designed to limit the responsibility of occupiers for securing cultural property, with such responsibility applying only to "cultural property situated in occupied territory and damaged by military operations," only when national authorities are unable to protect it, and even then only so far as possible. Since looting by civilians is not damage inflicted by military operations, Iraq's archaeological sites are fair game and no necessary concern of the US military, which may in fact point to Hague as putting it off the hook for whatever goes wrong.

That succinctly points out the main flaws in the Hague framework. However Rothfield notes, and I wholeheartedly agree that the flaws in the Hague Convention certainly do not make ratification meaningless.

It officially adopts what had up to now been customary international law, and may help to aid and support the efforts of organizations like
Blue Shield and others. Ultimately, the difficulty international treaties and lawmakers have had in regulating the rules of conflict to prevent the looting and destruction of sites may indicate how difficult it is to regulate armed conflict -- and may perhaps be a powerful reason to avoid the use of force at all cost. As the Hague Testimony endorsed by heritage advocacy groups notes, adoption of the Convention "
is a crucial step toward improving our foreign relations by sending a strong signal to all nations that the United States values their cultural heritage."


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