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Wednesday, 14 May 2003
Page: 10972

Senator Brown asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 14 February 2003:

With reference to Australia's possible involvement in a war on Iraq:

(1) What steps have been taken to ensure that the estimated 10 000 to 100 000 archaeological and cultural sites in Iraq are protected from damage, specifically, how do these steps apply to bombing and to activities of ground troops.

(2) Will Australian forces observe the 1954 Hague Convention.

(3) What information about the location, value and sensitivity of archaeological and cultural sites in Iraq has been provided to Australian forces.

(4) What plans are in place to protect archaeological and cultural sites from looting, illegal excavation or other damage after the conflict.

(5) Who is responsible for protecting archaeological and cultural sites during, and after, any war in which Australia is involved.

Senator Hill (Minister for Defence) —The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) Australian rules of engagement require members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to comply fully with the laws of armed conflict. This includes Australia's obligations as a Party to the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (The Hague, 14 May 1954) and the First Additional Protocol (Geneva, 8 June 1977) to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 to respect and protect cultural property, including archaeological sites. Australian compliance with its legal obligations is effected through the appropriate analysis of the area in which military operations will be conducted. This analysis is a required step for all ADF military operations and is based on an assessment of the information available to ADF commanders at the time. Australian forces clearly understand their obligations under the laws of armed conflict and as such, care is taken in both air and ground operations to protect known archaeological and cultural sites from the effects of military operations. Legal advisers are available to commanders to provide advice on these matters.

(2) Yes. See response to question (1).

(3) The Australian forces obtain information through a variety of intelligence sources that relates to protected buildings and objects known to be located in the vicinity of military objectives and in areas of military operations. This information would cover known archaeological and cultural sites.

(4) See response to question (1).

(5) Iraq is a party to the Hague Convention and as such has a clear obligation to protect these sites from harm. For example, the Hague Convention requires that Iraq not use such sites for military purposes or to shield military sites. Archaeological and cultural sites may lose their protection under the Hague Convention if they are used for military purposes. In relation to Australia's obligations, see response to question (1).