United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Practice Relating to Rule 38. Attacks against Cultural Property
The UK Military Manual (1958), while distinguishing between undefended and defended towns, states that a defended town is open to bombardment, subject to the limitations deriving from the principle of distinction, namely, “churches and monuments duly marked by signs … must not be deliberately attacked if they are not used for military purposes”.
The manual further states:
300. Although the bombardment of the private and public buildings of a defended town or fortress is lawful, all necessary steps must be taken to spare, as far as possible, buildings dedicated to public worship, art, science, or charitable purposes, historic monuments.
301. It is the duty of the besieged to indicate such buildings or places by distinctive and visible signs which must be notified to the enemy beforehand.
303. Buildings for which inviolability is thus claimed must not be used at the same time for military purposes, for instance, as offices and quarters for signalling stations or observation posts. If this condition is violated, the besieger is justified in disregarding the [protective] sign … Thus the bombardment of Strasbourg Cathedral in 1870 was generally held to have been justified for the reason that an artillery observation post was established in its tower. A similar position arose when the Abbey of Monte Cassino was shelled and bombed by the Allies in 1943. It was alleged that the Germans used the Abbey as an observation post and store for military rations and ammunition.
The manual further states:
In addition to the ‘grave breaches’ of the 1949 [Geneva] Conventions … the following are examples of punishable violations of the laws of war, or war crimes:
(o) bombardment of … privileged buildings.
The UK LOAC Pamphlet (1981) states:
In sieges, bombardments or attacks precautions must be taken to spare, as far as possible, buildings dedicated to religion, art, science or charitable purposes, historic monuments, important works of art … provided they are not being used for military purposes. Buildings of this sort should be distinctively marked, clearly identifying them as places to be spared. If a cathedral, museum or similar building is used for some military purpose then it may become a proper military target and there may be no alternative but to destroy it.
The UK LOAC Manual (2004) states:
5.25. It is prohibited:
a. to commit any acts of hostility directed against the historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples;
5.25.1 In general, all civilian objects are protected. However, the protection of cultural property and places of worship is given special emphasis in the law of armed conflict, both in respect of protection from attack and in respect of discouraging their use for military purposes, so that the need to attack such property does not arise.
5.25.2. Because of its wording, the prohibition … only applies to very important cultural property of international stature … Property loses its protection if it is used for military purposes. … [M]aking clearly recognized cultural property the object of an attack can amount to a grave breach of [the 1977 Additional Protocol I] if the property is subject to special protection, extensive destruction is caused, the property has not been used for military purposes and it is not in the immediate proximity of a military objective …
5.25.3. [The 1977 Additional] Protocol I needs to be read in conjunction with the Cultural Property Convention, even for states not party to the latter, because an attack on cultural property is regarded as an aggravated form of attack on a civilian object, thus necessitating special care in operational planning.
With regard to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property, the manual states: “The detailed rules of the Convention do not apply to states not party to it, but the general principles of immunity of cultural property … do apply to those states.”
In its chapter on air operations, the manual states that “[c]ultural objects are specially protected”.
With regard to internal armed conflict, the manual states:
15.18. It is prohibited:
a. to commit any act of hostilities against cultural property, so long as it is not being used for military purposes …
15.18.1. Cultural property includes places of worship, institutions dedicated to religion, charity, education, the arts and sciences, historic monuments, and works of art and science.
15.18.2. Cultural property that is civilian property must be respected in any event. In addition, the Cultural Property Convention 1954 and the Second Hague Protocol 1999 apply in internal armed conflicts.
15.18.3. Intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science, or charitable purposes, and historic monuments, provided they are not military objectives, is a war crime.
In its chapter on enforcement of the law of armed conflict, the manual refers to “attacking a privileged or protected building” as a war crime “traditionally recognized by the customary law of armed conflict”.
The manual further notes:
Additional Protocol I extends the definition of grave breaches to include the following:
c. the following, when committed wilfully and in violation of the Conventions or the protocol:
(4) making the clearly recognized historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples and to which special protection has been given by special arrangement, the object of attack, causing as a result extensive destruction thereof, where there is no evidence that the adverse party is using such objects in support of the military effort and when such historic monuments, works of art and places of worship are not located in the immediate proximity of military objectives.
The UK Geneva Conventions Act (1957), as amended in 1995, punishes “any person, whatever his nationality, who, whether in or outside the United Kingdom, commits, or aids, abets or procures the commission by any other person of, a grave breach of … [the 1977 Additional Protocol I]”.
Under the UK ICC Act (2001), it is a punishable offence to commit a war crime as defined in Article 8(2)(b)(ix) and (e)(iv) of the 1998 ICC Statute.
At the CDDH, the UK delegation declared:
We note particularly the use of the expression “spiritual heritage” [in Article 47 bis
of the draft Additional Protocol I (now Article 53)], which qualifies the reference to places of worship and makes it obvious that the protection given by this article extends only to those places of worship which do constitute such spiritual heritage. Many holy places are thus covered, but it is clear to [the UK] delegation that the article is not intended to apply to all places of worship without exception. Secondly, [the UK] delegation does not understand this article as being intended to replace the existing customary law prohibitions reflected in Article 27 of the 1907 [Hague Regulations], which protect a variety of cultural and religious objects. Rather, this article establishes a special protection for a limited class of objects, which, because of their recognized importance, constitute a part of the heritage of mankind. It is the understanding of [the UK] delegation that if these objects are unlawfully used for military purposes, they will thereby lose effective protection as a result of attacks directed against such unlawful military uses”.
At the CDDH, the United Kingdom explained its vote against Article 20 bis of the draft Additional Protocol II (now Article 16) as follows:
In the case of Article 20 bis
, we considered that to retain a provision on the protection of cultural objects and places of worship which did not appear in the simplified draft, when so many provisions for the protection of human victims of armed conflict had been deleted, would be a distortion of what should be the true aims of the Protocol … Our negative vote should not be taken as indicating any lack of sympathy with the aim of the article. It is to be seen as an expression of our conviction that a proper balance should be found in the contents of the Protocol as a whole, a balance which in general seemed to us to have been struck in the simplified draft of Pakistan.
Upon signature and upon ratification of the 1977 Additional Protocol I, the United Kingdom stated, in relation to Article 53: “If the objects protected by this Article are unlawfully used for military purposes they will thereby lose protection from attacks directed against such unlawful military uses.”
In 1991, during a debate in the UN Security Council concerning the Gulf War, the United Kingdom asserted its compliance with the principle of avoiding damage to sites of religious and cultural significance.
In 1991, in a report submitted to the UN Security Council on operations in the Gulf War, the United Kingdom stated: “British commanders have also been briefed on the locations and significance of sites of religious and cultural importance in Iraq, and operations will take account of this.”
In 1991, in a report submitted to the UN Security Council on operations in the Gulf War, the United Kingdom stated:
The entire campaign has been conducted against military infrastructure with the express directions to avoid causing civilian casualties as far as possible, and with specific briefing to avoid sites of cultural and historic significance.
In 1991, in a report submitted to the UN Security Council on operations in the Gulf War, the Government of the United Kingdom stated:
Pilots have clear instructions to minimize civilian casualties and to avoid damage to sites of religious and cultural significance. Indeed, on a number of occasions, attacks have not been pressed home because pilots were not completely satisfied they could meet these conditions.
In 2003, during a debate in the House of Commons, the UK Prime Minister replied to a Member’s question:
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Were cathedrals such as Durham, Lincoln or Wells to be damaged, what would we feel? What precautions are being taken about Kerbala, Najaf, Ur, Hatra and the other great sites? That will be difficult, given that, as at Samarra last time, Saddam may place military objects near the ancient sites.
The Prime Minister
: I am glad that my hon. Friend recognises the propensity towards total irresponsibility of Saddam. I assure him that we are fully committed to the protection of cultural property. That is not merely the Government’s position: we are also committed to that under the Geneva conventions. I understand that the Foreign Secretary has talked to him about that, and we will do everything that we can to make sure that sites of cultural or religious significance are properly and fully protected.
In 2003, in reply to a written question in the House of Lords, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, wrote:
Paragraph 53 of Additional Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions prohibits any attack against a cultural property unless that property is used to support a military effort. In our military planning, very careful attention is applied, in accordance with our responsibilities under international law, to ensure that we minimise the risk of damage from any quarter to civilian populations and infrastructure, including sites of historic, archaeological and cultural heritage.
We are confident that our servicemen and women will respect the rich heritage of the Iraqi people. Any form of indiscipline by United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Armed Forces will be taken very seriously and will be dealt with accordingly.
Iraqi military and civilian individuals will be held personally accountable for actions taken by them in the event of military action, including criminal offences.
In 2003, in reply to a written question in the House of Commons, the UK Secretary of State for Defence wrote:
We are fully aware of the significance of the holy sites in Najaf and Karbala. The coalition is taking every precaution to respect and avoid damage to them.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is fully committed to the protection of cultural property in times of armed conflict. The Government takes very seriously its obligations to act in conformity with international law, the UN Charter and international humanitarian law. In all our military planning, very careful attention is applied to ensure that we minimise the risk of damage to all civilian sites.
The targeting process during current operations is conducted in accordance with all obligations under international law, including Additional Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions, and the Targeting Directive to United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland forces stationed in the Gulf contains explicit guidance on their obligations under international and domestic law. For reasons of force protection, I cannot comment on the specifics of our targeting policy, and I am therefore withholding that information under Exemption 1 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information (Defence, security and international relations).
In 2005, in reply to a question concerning, inter alia, the protection of cultural property by British forces in Iraq, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
The 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict directs that combatants must avoid directing attacks against protected sites, unless there is a military imperative to do so. The UK is in the process of ratifying the convention and its two protocols. This process is still at an early stage and there have been no discussions with the Iraqi authorities relating to the convention. However, UK troops are already acting in accordance with the spirit of the convention.
The UK is a signatory to the 1977 Additional Protocol (AP 1) of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which requires that civilian objects are to be protected from attack, unless that object is being used for military purposes; in which case it may lose its special protected status. UK forces in Iraq have strict instructions not to fire on cultural sites such as mosques and heritage sites, as well as important economic and social infrastructure properties, unless these sites are being used for militarily offensive purposes.