International Cultural Property Protection

International Cultural Property Protection

Safeguarding cultural property while in-theater is an obligation derived from international treaty and law of war doctrine. It also plays a critical role as a force multiplier —improving relationships with local populations by enforcing our message that the U.S. military is a respectful and professional fighting force. When our forces show consideration of and respect for a local population’s cultural heritage and historic properties, we earn trust that can be built upon. Military doctrine on the protection of cultural property meets the requirements of international law, is an expression of our national values, and serves as a force multiplier, which supports the defense mission.

The tangible evidence or expressions of a culture’s heritage is reflected in their cultural property —inherently valuable, non-renewable resources that can include, but is not limited to:

  • works of art, murals, and statues;
  • historic and ancient buildings or their ruins;
  • archaeological sites and artifacts found on or beneath the land, or underwater and their respective archives and associated materials;
  • museums, libraries, and archives, as well as their respective collections; and
  • sacred places, such as churches, mosques, temples, shrines, sanctuaries and cemeteries.

Cultural heritage and cultural resources (or cultural property) can be numerous and are not always immediately apparent, which makes identifying the nature of the conflict and the terrain important to avoid damage or destruction of cultural property. Archaeological sites, religious and historical monuments, museums, archives, libraries and the cultural property found therein should be safeguarded and protected when possible. 

Law & Policy

Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, including the 1954 and 1999 Protocols

The Preamble to the Convention sets forth the principle that because “damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind,” it is incumbent upon the international community to enact special legal measures for its safeguarding. The main convention defines the term ‘cultural property’ for the first time. The First Protocol for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict has two unambiguous purposes. First, all High Contracting Parties must take active measures to prevent all exports of movable cultural property, as defined in the 1954 Hague Convention, from any territory that they might occupy during an armed conflict. Second, they must undertake to seize and hold, to the end of hostilities, any cultural property that was imported into their territory in contravention of the first principle of the Protocol. It also provides that such cultural property must never be retained as war reparations. The Second Protocol provides more detail than the main Convention and its First Protocol regarding actions that State Parties must take during both peacetime and armed conflict.

Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preserving the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property
U.S. House of Representatives, H.R. 1493, Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act
U.S. Department of Defense, Directive 2311.01E, Law of War Program

Members of the DoD Components must comply with the law of war during all armed conflicts, however such conflicts are characterized, and in all other military operations.

U.S. Department of Defense, General Order 1A (GO-1A), Prohibited Activities for U.S. Department of Defense Personnel Present Within the United States Central Command AOR

Provides specific instructions for respecting and protecting cultural, historical and religious sites, monuments and other immoveable and moveable property.

U.S. Department of the Army, GTA 41-01-002, Civil Affairs Arts, Monuments, and Archives Guide
U.S. CENTCOM, Regulation Number 200-2, Environmental Quality, Chapter 6: Historical and Cultural Preservation
NATO Policy for the Protection of Civilians

This policy has incorporated a reference to cultural property protection.


External Stakeholders

Reports & Guidance

In-Theater Heritage Training Brief (Legacy 06-324) pdf [183 KB]

A script for In-Theater Heritage Training concerning archaeological sites and sacred places in Iraq and Afghanistan. Basic briefing appropriate for all deploying military personnel.

OCONUS Data Layer for Cultural Resources: A Feasibility Study ppt [37.63 MB]
OCONUS Data Layer for Cultural Resources: A Feasibility Study FACTSHEET pdf [197 KB]

This one page summary describes a project that developed and partially populated a cultural resources database and a GIS data layer for OCONUS regions where DoD personnel are deployed; assessed the depth, breadth, and availability of needed OCONUS culture resource information; and made recommendations concerning how to efficiently and effectively develop these OCONUS cultural resource data layers in future efforts.

Training for In-Theater Cultural Resources Protection: Training Assets Construction Specifications (Legacy 06-324) pdf [1.83 MB]

Consideration for preservation of archeological sites and cultural properties in military theaters of operation is becoming increasingly essential to the mission. The attached specifications offer quick solutions for construction of training assets that replicate a variety of cultural properties that our personnel may encounter overseas. At Fort Drum we have added these assets to the Adirondack Aerial Gunnery Range as well as to the Mobile MOUT and the Urban Sprawl Area. The trainers at Fort Drum are finding them to be valuable and are requesting more.

Training for In-Theater Cultural Resources Protection: Training Assets Construction Specifications (Legacy 06-324) doc [216 KB]

This one page summary describes the objective of this project, to provide practical training materials that are easily available to military personnel at all levels.