Legal responses to the intentional destruction and looting of cultural sites: The paradigm of Syria

Document Type


Publication Date

January 2015


The civil war in Syria, now in its fourth year and with multiple parties, has engendered probably the most widespread and numerous examples of destruction, damage and looting of cultural sites since the Second World War. Several international legal instruments, including the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its First Protocol, were drafted in the wake of World War II to prevent the repetition of such harms inflicted on cultural sites and repositories. More recently, the prosecution of military leaders by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the increasing use of customary international law, and the adoption of the Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention have raised awareness of the consequences of violating these international legal norms and treaty obligations. Despite these provisions, the parties to the conflict in Syria have continued to engage in cultural heritage destruction for differing reasons and motivations. This paper will explore the deterrents of international law and its limits in protecting cultural heritage.