Amid escalating US-Iran tensions following a US drone strike in Iraq that killed General Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, US President Donald Trump has made a public threat to attack Iranian cultural sites, which Human Rights Watch said is considered a war crime.
“President Trump should publicly reverse his threats against Iran’s cultural property and make clear that he will not authorise nor order war crimes,” Andrea Prasow, acting Washington director at Human Rights Watch sain on Sunday, January 05.
“The US Defense Department should publicly reaffirm its commitment to abide by the laws of war and comply only with lawful military orders,” she added.
The laws of war prohibit deliberate attacks on civilian objects not being used for military purposes. Objects of great importance to a people’s cultural heritage must not be the object of attack. Article 53 of Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions specifically prohibits any acts of hostility against cultural objects, including making such objects the target of reprisals.
The US Law of War Manual (2016), which has extensive provisions relating to the protection of cultural property, incorporates this provision into US law. The US is also a party to the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954), which similarly prohibits such attacks.
Under customary laws of war, individuals who order or take part in deliberate attacks on civilian objects are committing war crimes. Article 85 of Protocol I specifically states that attacks on cultural objects are grave breaches of the convention.
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, to which neither the US nor Iran is a party, includes as a war crime intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science, or charitable purposes or historic monuments that are not military objectives.
The US War Crimes statute holds criminally liable US nationals, including officials and military personnel, who commit war crimes. Under customary laws of war, every combatant has a duty to disobey a manifestly unlawful order.
Trump’s threats against Iran’s cultural heritage reflect his administration’s broader disregard for human rights in Iran and elsewhere, Human Rights Watch said.This latest threat to target Iran’s cultural treasures will likely reinforce the view among Iranians that the US has little regard for their health or welfare.
“Trump’s threat to attack Iran’s cultural heritage shows his callous disregard for the global rule of law,” Prasow said. “Whether refusing to condemn the brutal murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi or pardoning convicted war criminals, Trump has shown little respect for human rights as part of US foreign policy.” (Source: HRW)