According to AP, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the US will “follow the laws of armed conflict.” When asked if that ruled out targeting cultural sites, Esper said pointedly, “That’s the laws of armed conflict.”
Trump has defended his threat to target Iranian cultural sites if the country were to follow through with retaliation measures for the killing of Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani.
Also, International Council of Museums (ICOM) and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) in a statement on Tuesday jointly and strongly condemned any deliberate destruction of cultural heritage.
ICOM and ICOMOS issued a joint statement reiterating that both the US and Iran are signatories to the 1954 Hague Convention for the protection of cultural property in armed conflict.
The statement themed “on the threats to cultural heritage in case of armed conflicts” reads as follows:
In armed conflicts and political upheavals since the turn of the millennium, cultural heritage has been increasingly targeted. It has been looted or deliberately destroyed, in order to finance warfare or to affect the identity and the confidence of adversaries. Museums, as well as cultural sites, are affected in many countries around the world.
ICOM and ICOMOS, as representatives of the heritage community in the world, are very much concerned about this evolution and in particular recent developments.
Those states that adhere to the World Heritage Convention agree that “any damage to cultural property, irrespective of the people it belongs to, is damage to the cultural heritage of all humanity because every people contributes to the world’s culture.”
This statement follows President Trump’s threat, made on Twitter on Saturday, to target 52 Iranian cultural sites, should there be any Iranian retaliation for the US assassination of Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani.
Andrea Prascow, the acting Washington director of Human Rights Watch, called on Trump on Sunday to ‘publicly reverse his threats against Iran’s cultural property and make clear that he will not authorize nor order war crimes.’
The Director General of UNESCO Audrey Azoulay said in a meeting with Iranian Ambassador Ahmad Jalali on Monday that the US is responsible for protecting cultural heritage in any possible hostility.
The director general recalled the provisions of the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, two legal instruments that have been ratified by both the United States and Iran, according to IRNA.
National Museum of Iran
Moreover, the National Museum of Iran issued a statement on Monday, denouncing Trump’s threat to strike 52 Iranian targets that are important to Iran and Iranian culture.
“The Museum condemns US President Donald Trump’s recent tweet (January 4, 2020) threatening to strike 52 Iranian targets that are important to Iran and Iranian culture. It is clear that targeting cultural sites is against UNESCO’s Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property during War and Protocol 1 of the Geneva Convention, Article 53 – Protection of cultural objects and of places of worship – of 12 August 1949. Undoubtedly, such action to destroy cultural properties that belong to human heritage is a war crime, and we expect the international community to take necessary actions, even words, especially coming from high-profile political figures,” the statement, signed by the museum’s director, Jebrael Nokandeh, reads.
Association of Art Museum Directors
The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), which represents 225 art museums in North America, also weighed in, saying in a statement that the organization “deplores the tactic of targeting or demolishing cultural sites as part of any war or armed conflict. In this case, the region is home to unique and irreplaceable artifacts and archeological sites, and AAMD strongly urges international engagement to protect and preserve our shared cultural heritage,” artnet.com reported.
American Alliance of Museums
The American Alliance of Museums – another leading museum trade organization that tends to conspicuously avoid wading into politics – also released a statement “condemn[ing] the targeting of cultural sites for destruction.”
The group continued, “We expect the United States Government to comply with international law and urge the US Government to reaffirm its commitment to its longstanding practice of not targeting cultural sites during peace or wartime.”