Jan 10, 2020 09:27 UTC

The United Nations' Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday Jan. 6, US President Donald Trump’s public threat to attack Iranian sites of cultural importance would be war crimes if carried out.

The US government should immediately clarify that the US will at all times comply with the laws of war. According to HRW, 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 following is a news report compiled and authored by staff writers of Iran's English Language paper 'Iran Daily' entitled: "Iran’s minister: Attack on cultural sites against international laws."

Iran’s Minister of Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Ali-Asghar Mounsean condemned US President Donald Trump’s threats against the country’s cultural sites.

According to IRNA, the Iranian minister wrote in a tweet in reaction to Trump’s recent threat on attacking Iran’s cultural sites, in case Iran carried out its promised revenge over the US assassination of Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani,  the Commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).

Lieutenant General Solemani along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the Deputy Chief of the Iraqi pro-government Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), were assassinated outside the Baghdad International Airport in an inhumane operation by the US military upon an order from Donald Trump on Friday Jan. 3.  Four other Iranians and four other Iraqis in their company were also martyred.

Mounesan added, “Attacking cultural centers is completely against international law. Threatening cultural sites is not acceptable to any nation and under any pretext, and under UN Security Council Resolution 2347, any such move would be filed as a war crime.”

In addition, Iran’s Secretary General of the Iranian National Commission for UNESCO Hojjatollah Ayoubi sent a letter to UNESCO in terms of US threats to attack Iran’s thousands-year-old cultural monuments.

Ayoubi asked the Director General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, to condemn such threatening acts and inform public opinion about the potential dangers of such threatening behavior.

He said that international cultural world as well as history and culture lovers wait for UNESCO stance, as the world’s most important cultural organization, to this threatening move.

Donald Trump defended his threat to target Iranian cultural sites if the country were to follow through with retaliation measures for the assassination of Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani.

According to euronews.com, speaking with reporters as he returned to Washington from his holiday in Florida, he doubled down, despite international prohibitions.

Trump, talking to reporters, baselessly claimed “They’re allowed to kill our people. They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn’t work that way.”

Trump’s warnings rattled some administration officials. One US national security official said the president had caught many in the administration off guard and prompted internal calls for others in the administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to clarify the matter.

The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly to the issue, said clarification was necessary to affirm that the US military would not intentionally commit war crimes.

Earlier on Sunday Jan. 5, Iran had warned Trump that bombing cultural heritage “is a war crime” after he threatened to attack 52 Iranian sites if there were any reprisals over the assassination of Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani.

While making a reference to the takeover of the former US embassy in Tehran in 1979, Trump tweeted from his Mar-a-Lago golf resort in Florida that the US had already “targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture.”

Trump did not identify the targets but added that they would be “hit very fast and very hard.”

Iran is home to 24 UNESCO World Heritage sites. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted back on Sunday Jan 5, that Trump had already “committed grave breaches of (international) law” in assassination of Lieutenant General Soleimani in the first place and that “targeting cultural sites is a war crime.”

His colleague, Iran's Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mohammad-Javad Azari-Jahromi, said Trump hated culture — “like Daesh, like Hitler, like Genghis (Khan)” — adding, “Trump is a terrorist in a suit.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday Jan. 6, US President Donald Trump’s public threat to attack Iranian sites of cultural importance would be war crimes if carried out. The US government should immediately clarify that the US will at all times comply with the laws of war.

Amid escalating US-Iran tensions following a January 3, 2020 US drone strike in Iraq that martyred Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, Commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps’ Quds Force, the US president tweeted on January 4, that as a warning to Iran, the US has “targeted 52 Iranian sites … some at a very high level & important to Iran & Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, will be hit very fast and very hard.”

Andrea Prasow, Acting Washington Director at Human Rights Watch said “President Trump should publicly reverse his threats against Iran’s cultural property and make clear that he will not authorize nor order war crimes,” adding, “The US Defense Department should publicly reaffirm its commitment to abide by the laws of war and comply only with lawful military orders.”

According to HRW.org, 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 the US is not 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.

Human Rights Watch said Trump’s threats against Iran’s cultural heritage reflect his administration’s broader disregard for human rights in Iran and elsewhere. The broad sanctions that the US imposed following the rejection of the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, have contributed to ordinary Iranians’ inability to get essential medicines. This latest threat to target Iran’s cultural treasures will reinforce the view among Iranians that the US has no regard for their health or welfare.

Chinese Ambassador to Tehran Chang Hua also reacted to Trump’s threats against cultural sites in Iran, saying world cultural heritage belongs to all humanity.

Hua wrote on his Twitter account “World cultural heritage belongs to all humanity.” He displayed photos of the Imam Mosque, Ali Qapu Palace in Isfahan, as well as the Fin Garden in Kashan next to one another as the world’s instances of cultural heritage sites.

Condemning the assassination of Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis by the US, the renowned Pakistani intellectual and poet said that Trump’s threat to strike Iranian cultural sites is a highly shameful act.

In an interview with IRNA, the former Head of Tehran-based ECO Cultural Institute, Professor Iftikhar Hussain Arif offered his condolences to the people and the governments of Iran and Iraq on the tragic incident.

Former director general of the National Language Promotion Department said the oppressed people around the world are standing side by side with the Iranian and Iraqi nations at this time of grief.

He added that Iraq was hosting Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani as a representative of an independent nation. He noted the Iranian commander was there to hold meetings with senior Iraqi officials.

The intellectual noted that the US, without heeding international laws, took the cowardly act of targeting the brave Iranian general. The scholar said “The assassination of General Soleimani is a barbaric act which is highly condemned.”

Expressing his views on Trump’s threat to target cultural sites in Iran, Iftikhar Hussain Arif said that warmongers who always want to ruin the peace of the world have no respect for cultures. The intellectual noted “Even an ordinary person knows that an attack on cultural sites is a foolish act.”

He urged the United Nations, especially UNESCO, to take notice of such threats, saying that the historical and cultural sites in Iran are a recognized heritage which should be protected at all costs.

The cultural figure stressed “We have seen how terrorists have destroyed thousands-year-old cultural and historical sites, including the holy shrines of religious personalities in Syria and Iraq, so UNESCO should not keep silent to Trump’s threat and take action on that."

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