Wednesday, January 15, 2020
Last week, President Trump repeatedly threatened to commit war crimes by targeting Iran's cultural sites for destruction until, after the Department of Defense refused to go along, he backed off, at least for now. These threatened war crimes would also violate US human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. The U.S. is one of four countries that have signed but not ratified this Covenant, which has been ratified by 170 countries worldwide.
Article 15 of the ICESCR explicitly addresses culture, providing that parties to the Convention "recognize the right of everyone . . . to take part in cultural life." Parties to the Covenant further agree that "the steps to be taken . . . to achieve full realization of this right shall include those necessary for the conservation, the development, and the diffusion of science and culture."
While the United States is not a party to the Convention, as a signatory it is obligated under international law to refrain from defeating the object and purpose of the treaty. Clearly, intentional destruction by the U.S. of Iran's cultural sites would defeat the treaty's purpose with regard to cultural conservation and preservation.
After last week's course reversal, it seems that President Trump is not ready to overtly commit international war crimes. But surely, we deserve a President who is also serious about not violating international human rights just to distract from his domestic political troubles.