Thursday, October 09, 2008

US Ratifies Cultural Property Treaty

The United States Senate has voted to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. This international convention regulates the conduct of nations during war and military occupation in order to assure the protection of cultural sites, monuments and repositories, including museums, libraries and archives.

Although the United States signed the Convention soon after its writing, the Pentagon objected to ratification because of increasing Cold War tensions. Only with the collapse of the Soviet Union did the U.S. military withdraw its objections, and President Clinton transmitted it to the Senate in 1999.

The public attention given to the looting of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, and the looting of archaeological sites in southern Iraq during the ensuing years revived interest in the Convention, and the Senate finally voted to give its advice and consent to ratification on September 25, 2008.

While U.S. policy has been to follow the principles of the Convention, ratification will raise the imperative of protecting cultural heritage during conflict, including the incorporation of heritage preservation into military planning, will clarify the
United States' obligations, and will encourage the training of military personnel in cultural heritage preservation and the recruitment of cultural heritage professionals into the military.

Patty Gerstenblith, President of the Lawyers' Committed for Cultural Heritage Preservation, cited among the advantages of ratification, "Most importantly, it sends a clear signal to other nations that the United States respects their cultural heritage and will facilitate U.S. cooperation with its allies and coalition partners in achieving more effective preservation efforts in areas of armed conflict."

The Archaeological Institute of America has advocated ratification of the Hague Convention for more than fifteen years. John Russell, Vice President for Professional Responsibilities of the AIA, commented that "By ratifying the 1954 Hague Convention, the U.S. has affirmed its commitment to protecting cultural property during armed
conflict. The Archaeological Institute of America will continue to work with the Department of Defense to integrate the Convention's provisions fully and consistently into the U.S. military training curriculum at all levels."


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