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The Meaning of ‘Cultural Property’ under the 1954 Hague Convention


The 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict has, until recently, sat on the sidelines of humanitarian law. One reason for this, which has been overlooked to date, is a seemingly widespread though rarely confessed confusion over the nature and extent of the ‘cultural property’ to which it applies. Article 1 defines cultural property within the meaning of the Convention as: ‘movable or immovable property of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people …’

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J. Hladik , ‘The Review Process of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and Its Impact on International Humanitarian Law’, 1 YIHL (1998) p. 313;

M. Seršić , ‘Protection of Cultural Property in Time of Armed Conflict’, 27 NYIL (1996) p. 3 at p. 9.

J.H. Merryman , ‘Two Ways of Thinking About Cultural Property’, 80 AJIL (1986) p. 831 at pp. 836–837, esp. fn. 21

J.H. Merryman , ‘The Public Interest in Cultural Property’, 77 Calif. L Rev. (1989) p. 339 at p. 343, esp. fn. 17. For a justification of the reading of ‘peoples’ as ‘nations’/‘states’ for present purposes, see infra.

J.L. Sax , ‘Heritage Preservation as a Public Duty: The Abbé Grégoire and the Origins of an Idea’, 88 Mich. L Rev. (1990) p. 1142 at p. 1144, fn. 8 [emphasis added]. See also Prott and O'Keefe, op. cit. n. 33, at pp. 311, 318; Saba, op. cit. n. 37, at p. 30.

R. O'Keefe , ‘The “Right to Take Part in Cultural Life” under Article 15 of the ICESCR’, 47 ICLQ (1998) p. 904. Prott and O'Keefe also assert, in the abstract, ‘the right of each community to define its own cultural heritage’: Prott and O'Keefe, op. cit. n. 47, at p. 927.

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Netherlands International Law Review
  • ISSN: 0165-070X
  • EISSN: 1741-6191
  • URL: /core/journals/netherlands-international-law-review
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