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  xMonday, April 21, 2003

looting and law


Here's an interesting FindLaw article on the United State's responsibility to preseve order and protect the cultural artifacts in Iraq.
Last week, after two days of unhindered pillage, the Baghdad museum that housed these treasures was emptied. By Friday afternoon, when Rumsfeld made his dismissive remarks, looters were carting away the last spoils. According to the museum's deputy director, who blamed U.S. forces for refusing to prevent the plunder, at least 170,000 items were taken or destroyed.

The pillage of the National Museum of Iraq should have come as no surprise. And if the risks were obvious, the legal responsibilities were equally clear.

...Well prior to the outbreak of the current war, [archaeologists and scholars] warned the Pentagon of the dangers to Iraq's cultural heritage posed by postwar pillage and destruction.

Under the laws of war, the United States is obligated to ensure public order in territories that it occupies, and to prevent looting and other forms of lawlessness. More specifically, it is required to protect museums and other cultural property against damage.

The primary international treaty on this point is the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, drafted in 1954. The convention specifies that an occupying power must take necessary measures to safeguard and preserve the cultural property of the occupied country.

Because this rule codifies customary international law, it is binding even on countries such as the United States that have signed but not ratified the convention.

Looting most definitely happens when the authorities take no steps to prevent it. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that this was the case with Iraq's National Museum and its priceless collection of artifacts.

Wasn't the idea that Iraq was flouting international law one of the Rationales of the Week for this war? In any case, the loss of these irreplaceable artifacts once again illustrates the Administration's incopetence. They gambled on Saddam folding quickly when attacked by a force too small to swiftly or fully secure the country if he didn't. While the eventual military victory surprised no one, the subsequent lawlessness and disorder should have surprised no one either, but the armed forces were either unable or unwilling to do much about it. And that's a direct consequence of Rumsfeld's plans.

(via Terminus, who quite appropriately wonders why Rumsfeld doesn't even have the decency to pretend to regret the sack of Baghdad)





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