The role of the 1954 Hague Convention in protecting Cambodiancultural property during the period of armed conflict
30-06-2004 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 854, by Étienne Clément, Farice Quinio
The years of domination by the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia have left the country and its memory, but also its cultural heritage, permanently scarred. This article shows with reference to an actual situation what the effects of armed conflict on a country’s cultural property can be, while at the same time demonstrating how the legal instruments devised to protect it can be applied and play a crucial role in the preservation of cultural heritage.
Cambodia’s unequalled cultural heritage – and in particular Angkor – was not spared the sufferings that country endured from 1970 onwards. Cambodia
went through 30 years of conflict, with the Khmer Rouge régime (1975-1979) marking the peak of cruelty and ideological barbarity. These years have left a permanent scar on the country and its memory. Monuments and archaeological sites in particular suffered the consequences of abandonment, vandalism, looting and lack of maintenance, together with the effects of military use. However, despite the traces of vandalism that bear witness to the sites’ having been subjected to military occupation, the temples suffered less during the fighting than had been feared. The application of certain of the provisions contained in the Hague Convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict of 14 May 1954 played a crucial role in protecting Cambodian heritage. The Convention constitutes one of the most important tools for the protection of cultural property under international humanitarian law. It clearly helped to protect cultural property by providing the Cambodian authorities with a legal basis and, above all, by legitimizing the action they undertook in this area.