The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Shabby Sheik: Gaddafi’s ‘fashion’ and cultural property

April 28, 2011

As much as the proposal to put Mummar Gaddafi’s outfits up for display at the Costume Institute of New York should be true in a fully just world, I would imagine that it isn’t.

Alas, the West shall be deprived of “four decades of Colonel Gaddafi’s superior dress sense”. And we are weaker for it.

However, this did get me thinking. Could Libya make a plausible case that Gaddafi’s outfits (which have been out-Gaga-ing Lady Gaga since well before she was born this way) are in fact ‘cultural property’ under the 1954 Hague Cultural Property Convention?

According to Article 1 of the treaty:

For the purposes of the present Convention, the term “cultural property” shall cover, irrespective of origin or ownership: (a) movable or immovable property of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people, such as monuments of architecture, art or history, whether religious or secular; archaeological sites; groups of buildings which, as a whole, are of historical or artistic interest; works of art; manuscripts, books and other objects of artistic, historical or archaeological interest; as well as scientific collections and important collections of books or archives or of reproductions of the property defined above;

And how could you argue that this isn’t a “work of art”?

If a plausible argument can be made there are some serious targeting implications for NATO. (Provided, of course, the Libyans first mark off where the outfits are with the appropriate sign.)

Article 4 states:

1. The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect cultural property situated within their own territory as well as within the territory of other High Contracting Parties by refraining from any use of the property and its immediate surroundings or of the appliances in use for its protection for purposes which are likely to expose it to destruction or damage in the event of armed conflict; and by refraining from any act of hostility directed against such property.
2. The obligations mentioned in paragraph I of the present Article may be waived only in cases where military necessity imperatively requires such a waiver.
3. The High Contracting Parties further undertake to prohibit, prevent and, if necessary, put a stop to any form of theft, pillage or misappropriation of, and any acts of vandalism directed against, cultural property. They shall, refrain from requisitioning movable cultural property situated in the territory of another High Contracting Party.
4. They shall refrain from any act directed by way of reprisals against cultural property.
5. No High Contracting Party may evade the obligations incumbent upon it under the present Article, in respect of another High Contracting Party, by reason of the fact that the latter has not applied the measures of safeguard referred to in Article 3.

You know, everything that didn’t happen in Iraq.

Of course there is also “immunity from seizure,capture and prize” – so none of the European military advisors on the ground will not suddenly be wearing lots and lots and lots of gold braid.

Oh – and even if the Libyan conflict is not of an international character (Certainly the NATO campaign is, but the civil war might not be!) there are still fundamental guarantees under Article 19:

1. In the event of an armed conflict not of an international character occurring within the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the provisions of the present Convention which relate to respect for cultural property.
2. The parties to the Conflict shall endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention.
3. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization may offer its services to the parties to the conflict.
4. The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the parties to the conflict.

For the sake of humanity, will no one think of the Paco Rabanne sunglasses?

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Stephanie Carvin is an Associate Professor of International Relations at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. Her research interests are in the area of international law, security, terrorism and technology. Currently, she is teaching in the areas of critical infrastructure protection, technology and warfare and foreign policy.

Stephanie holds a PhD from the London School of Economics and published her thesis as Prisoners of America’s Wars: From the Early Republic to Guantanamo (Columbia/Hurst, 2010). Her most recent book is Science, Law, Liberalism and the American Way of Warfare: The Quest for Humanity in Conflict” (Cambridge, 2015) co-authored with Michael J. Williams. In 2009 Carvin was a Visiting Scholar at George Washington University Law School and worked as a consultant to the US Department of Defense Law of War Working Group. From 2012-2015, she was an analyst with the Government of Canada focusing on national security issues.
Stacie Goddard