IHL Database: Rule 38 on Attacks against Cultural Property




International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)


International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Database



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This document elaborates on rule number 38 which states that special care must be taken in military operations to avoid damage to buildings dedicated to religion, art, science, education or charitable purposes and historic monuments unless they are military objectives. It can be accessed through the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) database.

The document is part of the database that contains the 161 rules of customary IHL. This database is an online version of the study conducted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on customary IHL, originally published by Cambridge University Press in 2005. The study consists of two volumes: volume I (rules) and volume II (practice). The database makes the rules and the practice underlying them accessible online. Customary International Law is not written but derives from "a general practice accepted as law" and exist independent of treaty law. Customary IHL is of crucial importance in today’s armed conflicts because it fills gaps left by treaty law and so strengthens the protection offered to victims. The study identified 161 rules of customary IHL that constitute the common core of humanitarian law binding on all parties to all armed conflicts. These rules enhance the legal protection of victims of war throughout the world.

ICRC is an independent organization that helps those affected by armed conflict and promotes compliance with international humanitarian law. Its mandate stems essentially from the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

Some of the contents of the document are:

  • Cultural property in general
  • Property of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people
  • Waiver in case of imperative military necessity