President Trump has repeatedly said that he may order an attack on Iranian cultural sites if the country retaliates against the United States for the killing of General Qassem Soleimani.
But if he does so, that could constitute a war crime under international law. The United States is party to a 1954 treaty called the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, which explicitly bans attacks on cultural sites, such as historic buildings, libraries, and museums. It’s also prohibited by the Rome Statute, which creates the International Criminal Court, although the U.S. isn’t a party to that treaty.
Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit advocacy group, has said such an attack would violate international and U.S. law.
Trump hasn’t said which sites he would target, although he said the military is ready to strike 52 targets in Iran, corresponding to the 52 hostages taken in the hostage crisis in the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979. Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, accused Trump in a tweet of “hallucinating about emulating ISIS war crimes.”
If Trump does order an attack on cultural sites, it’s possible that members of the military could refuse to follow the order if they believe it violates the law, potentially creating a standoff between Trump and the military.