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In 1899, the first Hague Peace Conference was convened in order to revise the declaration that was set forth but never ratified by the Conference of Brussels in 1874 concerning the laws and customs of war. The 1899 Hague Convention on land warfare was adopted and subsequently ratified by fifty State Parties. Although the 1899 Convention was revised at the Second International Peace Conference in October 1907, only minor differences exist between it and the 1907 Convention. Because the provisions of these conventions are considered to be part of the rules of customary international law, today all states, even those that are not State Parties to either or both Conventions, are considered to be bound by their provisions.
The 1899 Convention states that it is forbidden “to destroy or seize the enemy’s property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war” (Article 23g). Furthermore, “the attack or bombardment of towns, villages, habitations or buildings which are not defended, is prohibited” (Article 25). In addition, “in sieges and bombardments all necessary steps should be taken to spare as far as possible edifices devoted to religion, art, science, and charity, hospitals, and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not used at the same time for military purposes.” Moreover, “the besieged should indicate these buildings or places by some particular and visible signs, which should previously be notified to the assailants” (Article 27). “The pillage of a town or place, even when taken by assault is prohibited” (Article 28). Finally, Article 56 states that “the property of municipalities, that of institutions dedicated to religion, charity and education, the arts and sciences, even when State property, shall be treated as private property. All seizure of, destruction or wilful damage done to institutions of this character, historic monuments, works of art and science, is forbidden, and should be made the subject of legal proceedings.”
Nearly identical provisions are included in the 1907 Convention, with only a few minor changes in wording.