Patty Gerstenblith, the President of the Lawyers' Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, sent out the following announcement:
The Archaeological Institute of America, the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, and the U.S. Committee for the Blue Shield announce that the United States Senate voted on September 25 to give its advice and consent to ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.
The United States now joins 121 other nations in becoming a party to this historic treaty which establishes the principles for protecting cultural sites, monuments and collections during both armed conflict and military occupation. By taking this significant step, the United States demonstrates its commitment to the preservation of the world’s cultural, artistic, religious and historic legacy.
The Library of Congress "Thomas" search engine (http://thomas.loc.gov/) indicates that the 1954 Hague Convention was acceded to with the following "understandings:"
Resolved (two-thirds of the Senators present concurring therein),-
720SECTION 1. SENATE ADVICE AND CONSENT SUBJECT TO UNDERSTANDINGS AND A DECLARATION
The Senate advises and consents to the ratification of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, concluded on May 14, 1954 (Treaty Doc. 106-1(A)), subject to the understandings of section 2 and the declaration of section 3.-720
SECTION 2. UNDERSTANDINGS
The advice and consent of the Senate under section 1 is subject to the following understandings, which shall be included in the instrument of ratification:
(1) It is the understanding of the United States of America that ``special protection,'' as defined in Chapter II of the Convention, codifies customary international law in that it, first, prohibits the use of any cultural property to shield any legitimate military targets from attack and, second, allows all property to be attacked using any lawful and proportionate means, if required by military necessity and notwithstanding possible collateral damage to such property.
(2) It is the understanding of the United States of America that any decision by any military commander, military personnel, or any other person responsible for planning, authorizing, or executing military action or other activities covered by this Convention shall only be judged on the basis of that person's assessment of the information reasonably available to the person at the time the person planned, authorized, or executed the action under review, and shall not be judged on the basis of information that comes to light after the action under review was taken.
(3) It is the understanding of the United States of America that the rules established by the Convention apply only to conventional weapons, and are without prejudice to the rules of international law governing other types of weapons, including nuclear weapons.
(4) It is the understanding of the United States of America that, as is true for all civilian objects, the primary responsibility for the protection of cultural objects rests with the Party controlling that property, to ensure that it is properly identified and that it is not used for an unlawful purpose.
-720SECTION 3. DECLARATION
The advice and consent of the Senate under section 1 is subject to the following declaration:With the exception of the provisions that obligate the United States to impose sanctions on persons who commit or order to be committed a breach of the Convention, this Convention is self-executing. This Convention does not confer private rights enforceable in United States courts.
It is my own understanding that the United States Military already largely followed the Convention anyway. Presumably, the Senate's "understandings" reflect current US military views on how the Convention should be applied in practice.
While the Senate's ratification is thus probably largely symbolic, the Lawyers' Committee, the AIA, the U.S. Committee for the Blue Shield and others still deserve credit for encouraging action on an instrument that has been languishing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since 1999. Still, one must recognize that the 1954 Hague Convention has been spectacularly unsuccessful in preventing damage to cultural property in places like the Balkans and most recently, Georgia. Only the real commitment of national authorities, military commanders, and the troops on the ground can ensure cultural property is indeed protected as much as possible given the exigencies of war.