Practice Relating to Rule 41. Export and Return of Cultural Property in Occupied Territory
It has been reported that, during the Gulf War, large amounts of cultural property, including almost the entire contents of the Kuwait National Museum, were removed to Baghdad. After the Gulf War, Iraq stated that thousands of objects had been stolen from its provincial museums during the period of the military intervention and its immediate aftermath. Four volumes listing this catalogued material have been drawn up by the Iraqi authorities and deposited with UNESCO.
It was reported that during the Gulf War, large amounts of cultural property, including almost the entire contents of the Kuwait National Museum, were removed to Baghdad but later returned.
In 1991, in identical letters to the UN Secretary-General and the President of the UN Security Council, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iraq stated: “The Iraqi Government has decided to return the following property seized by the Iraqi authorities after 2 August 1990: … 3. Museum objects.”
In a letter to a number of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the member States of the UN Security Council in 1991, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iraq stated:
Mr. J. Richard Foran, Assistant Secretary-General and official responsible for coordinating the return of [Kuwaiti] property, visited Iraq twice during the month of May 1991. The competent Iraqi authorities expressed their readiness to hand over the Kuwaiti property of which Iraq had already notified the Secretariat of the United Nations … Mr. Foran also undertook a wide-ranging field visit and saw for himself the … museum antiquities and books that will be returned to Kuwait immediately [after] an agreement is reached establishing a location for the handing over, it being understood that it is this property whose handing over Mr. Foran has determined should have priority at the present stage. The same procedures will doubtless be applied to other Kuwaiti property.
In a letter to the UN Secretary-General in September 1994, Iraq claimed that it had returned all the Kuwaiti property in its possession, “having nothing else whatsoever to return”.
In 1997, during a debate in the UN General Assembly, Iraq declared, in response to allegations by Kuwait that Iraqi soldiers had robbed and looted Kuwaiti cultural property during the Gulf War, that all the cultural property taken out of Kuwait by Iraq had either been returned or would be in the future.
In 2012, Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a press release entitled “Handing Over of Kuwaiti Property”, which stated:
In execution of UN [S]ecurity [C]ouncil related resolutions, and within the efforts of the Iraqi [M]inistry of [F]oreign [A]ffairs to close down the file of Kuwaiti property seized by the previous regime in 1990, the Kuwaiti side was handed over 27 boxes containing the archives of Kuwait Radio and two books belonging to Kuwait [U]niversity on June 27, 2012 at the HQ [headquarters] of the Kuwaiti [M]inistry of [F]oreign [A]ffairs.
In 2012, Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a press release entitled “Iraq informs the UN [of] its intent to return found Kuwaiti archives”, which stated:
Iraq has informed the UN [of] its intention to return national Kuwait[i] archives found in Iraqi territories. This was stated in a letter addressed by Hamid Al-Bayati, Iraq’s ambassador to the UN, to the head of [the] UN [S]ecurity [C]ouncil[,] stating that Iraq has formed a ministerial committee to coordinate with the [S]tate of Kuwait regarding the return of its national archives. He added that the [G]overnment of Iraq had officially informed the Kuwaiti embassy in Baghdad of [the] finding of 136 microfilm tapes containing official archives of Kuwait, adding that such tapes were handed over to the Iraqi [F]oreign [M]inister by an Iraqi citizen.