Rule 147. Reprisals against objects protected under the Geneva Conventions and Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property are prohibited.
State practice establishes this rule as a norm of customary international law applicable in international armed conflicts.
The Fourth Geneva Convention provides that reprisals are prohibited against the property of protected persons, i.e., civilians in the power of the adverse party.
A number of military manuals prohibit reprisals against the property of persons protected by the Fourth Geneva Convention,
whereas several other manuals prohibit reprisals against the property of protected persons in general.
The US Field Manual and Operational Law Handbook extend this prohibition to the property of all persons protected by the Geneva Conventions, including the property of the wounded, sick and shipwrecked and that of prisoners of war.
The First and Second Geneva Conventions prohibit reprisals against medical buildings, vessels and equipment protected thereunder.
These prohibitions are also stated in numerous military manuals.
The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property prohibits “any act directed by way of reprisals against cultural property” of great importance to the cultural heritage of a people.
The Convention has been ratified by 105 States. As stated in Chapter 12 on cultural property, the fundamental principles of protecting and preserving cultural property in the Convention are widely regarded as reflecting customary international law, as affirmed by the UNESCO General Conference,
and by States which are not party to the Convention.
Article 53(c) of Additional Protocol I prohibits reprisals against historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples.
The prohibition of reprisals against cultural property is also found in numerous military manuals and national legislation, including of States not party to the Hague Convention.
According to the Report on the Practice of the Islamic Republic of Iran, during the Iran–Iraq War, the Islamic Republic of Iran specifically excluded Iraq’s holy cities from its reprisal actions.
There is some contrary practice in that the United Kingdom’s reservation to Additional Protocol I relating to reprisals covers Article 53 on cultural property.
This contrary practice appears too limited to prevent the formation of this rule of customary international law prohibiting the attack of cultural objects in reprisal.
In addition to the provisions in the Geneva Conventions and Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property, Additional Protocol I has introduced prohibitions on attacking the following objects by way of reprisal during the conduct of hostilities: civilian objects in general (Article 52); historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples (Article 53); objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population (Article 54); the natural environment (Article 55); and works and installations containing dangerous forces, namely dams, dykes and nuclear electrical generating stations (Article 56).
Practice with respect to reprisals against these civilian objects, to the extent that they are not the property of civilians protected by Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, is similar, but not as extensive, as that relating to reprisals against civilians during the conduct of hostilities. While the vast majority of States have now specifically committed themselves not to take reprisal action against such objects, because of existing contrary practice,
albeit very limited, it is difficult to conclude that there has yet crystallized a customary rule specifically prohibiting reprisals against these civilian objects in all situations. Nevertheless, it is also difficult to assert that a right to resort to such reprisals continues to exist on the strength of the practice of only a limited number of States, some of which is also ambiguous.
No specific instances of reprisals against the above-mentioned objects have been recorded. It is likely that any such reprisals would attract condemnation, in particular as they are likely to affect both these objects and the civilian population.