What is "cultural property"?
Let's begin with "culture" — which represents the accumulated knowledge, beliefs, artistic achievements, laws and customs that represent human civilization at its best.
If culture survives from one generation to the next, it is inherited; hence the term "cultural heritage".
The tangible evidence or expression of cultural heritage is cultural property — an inherently valuable, non-renewable resource that includes, but is not limited to:
• works of art, historic and ancient buildings or their ruins;
• archaeological sites and artifacts (found on the land) and shipwrecks
(underwater archaeological sites);
• museums, library collections and archives; and
• sacred places, such as churches, mosques, temples, shrines, sanctuaries
The value of cultural property, whether archaeological or ethnological in nature, is immeasurable. Such items often constitute the very essence of a society and convey important information concerning a people's origin, history, and traditional setting. The
importance and popularity of such items regrettably makes them targets of theft, encourages clandestine looting of archaeological sites, and results in their illegal export and import.
Why is cultural property considered special and worthy of protection? There are three reasons:
• Cultural property is inherently rare. Genuine examples are few and diminishing
in number all the time for various reasons (accidents, environmental effects).
Genuine cultural property cannot be reproduced in its original form.
Therefore, once it's gone, it's gone forever.
• Cultural property is inherently vulnerable to a range of factors. Human misunderstanding, changing tastes, environmental degradation, neglect and
occasional fits of destruction (iconoclasm or icon-smashing, e.g., the Taliban
destroying the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001).
Constant effort is required to protect what any fool can destroy but no one
can replace or make again.
• Cultural property encompasses both the "known" (buildings, artworks,
collections and sacred places that we can visit or experience) and the
"unknown" (things that lay buried at archaeological sites, the physical
evidence of our undiscovered past). Should we allow something that is
irreplaceable (and potentially crucial to our understanding of history) to be
destroyed even before it has been discovered? The answer is no.
Legal Definition of Cultural Property.
The most widely-accepted definition of cultural property under international law is derived from two sources: Article I of the 1954 Hague Convention and Article I of the 1970 UNESCO Convention, which read as follows:
Article I - Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property In the Event of Armed Conflict (The Hague Convention):
"[T]the term 'cultural property' shall cover, irrespective of origin or ownership:
(a) movable or immovable property of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people, such as monuments of architecture, art or history, whether religious or secular; archaeological sites; groups of buildings which, as a whole, are of historical or artistic interest; works of art; manuscripts, books and other objects of artistic, historical or archaeological interest; as well as scientific collections and important collections of books or archives or of reproductions of the property defined above;
(b) buildings whose main and effective purpose is to preserve or exhibit the movable cultural property defined in sub-paragraph (a) such as museums, large libraries and depositories of archives, and refuges intended to shelter, in the event of armed conflict, the movable cultural property defined in subparagraph (a);
(c) centers containing a large amount of cultural property as defined in subparagraphs (a) and (b), to be known as 'centres containing monuments'.
a. Rare collections and specimens of fauna, flora, minerals and anatomy, and
objects of paleontological interest;
b. property relating to history, including the history of science and technology
and military and social history, to the life of national leaders, thinkers,
scientists and artists and to events of national importance;
c. products of archaeological excavations (including regular and clandestine)
or of archaeological discoveries;
d. elements of artistic or historical monuments or archaeological sites that
have been dismembered;
e. antiquities more than one hundred years old, such as inscriptions, coins
and engraved seals;
f. objects of ethnological interest;
g. property of artistic interest, such as:
(i) pictures, paintings and drawings produced entirely by hand on any
support and in any material (excluding industrial designs and
manufactured articles decorated by hand);
(ii) original works of statuary art and sculpture in any material;
(iii) original engravings, prints and lithographs;
(iv) original artistic assemblages and montages in any material; rare
manuscripts and incunabula, old books, documents and publications
of special interest (historical, artistic, scientific, literary, etc.) singly
or in collections; postage, revenue and similar stamps, singly or in
collections; archives, including sound, photographic and cinematographic
archives; articles of furniture more than one hundred years
old and old musical instruments."
The precise meaning of the phrase "specifically designated by each State," as it pertains to Iraq can be found in Article 4, lines 7, 8, 9, and 10 of the Iraq Law Number 55 (enacted 2002).
The precise meaning of the phrase "specifically designated by each State," as it pertains to Afghanistan is defined in Article 3 of The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Law on the Protection of Historic and Cultural Properties (enacted 2004).