What's In Blue

Posted Thu 14 Jul 2022

Ukraine: Arria-formula Meeting

Tomorrow (15 July) at 3 pm EST, there will be a Security Council Arria-formula meeting on “The destruction of cultural heritage as a consequence of the Russian aggression against Ukraine”. The meeting—which was initiated by Albania and Poland, in cooperation with Ukraine—is being co-sponsored by Council members Ireland and the UK, as well as several non-Council members. The expected briefers include Lazare Eloundou Assomo, Director of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Centre; Kateryna Chuyeva, Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Culture and Information Policy; Teresa Patricio, President of the International Council for Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), a non-governmental organisation dedicated to the conservation and protection of cultural heritage monuments; and Katarzyna Zalasińska, Director of Poland’s National Heritage Board and of its Support Center for Culture in Ukraine.

The meeting, which will take place in the ECOSOC chamber, is open to representatives of all UN member states and the media. Contingent on approval by Security Council members, the event will be broadcast on UN TV.

The concept note prepared by the co-organisers argues that the destruction of cultural heritage in Ukraine “has become an integral element of Russia’s war”. As at 11 July, UNESCO had verified damage to 161 cultural sites since Russia’s invasion on 24 February. This figure includes 71 religious sites, 12 museums, 31 historic buildings, 23 buildings dedicated to cultural activities, 17 monuments and seven libraries. Nearly half of the verified damage occurred at sites located in the Donetsk and Kharkiv regions. According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture and Policy of Information, the scale of damage and destruction may be far greater. None of the seven UNESCO World Heritage sites in Ukraine appear to have been damaged.

The concept note says that tomorrow’s meeting provides an opportunity for member states to hear first-hand accounts of the scale of damage to cultural properties in Ukraine. One of the stated objectives of the meeting is to consider how the international community can assist Ukraine with efforts to document the alleged crimes committed by Russian forces against Ukrainian culture.

The concept note sets out several questions to help guide the discussion at tomorrow’s meeting:

  • What options exist within the international legal framework to address the intentional destruction of cultural heritage as a tactic of war?
  • What are the main challenges in documenting damage to cultural properties in Ukraine? What best practices can be applied to improve this process?
  • What additional steps can member states take to strengthen accountability for the crimes committed in this context in Ukraine?
  • How can the international community enhance coordination efforts aiming to help Ukraine protect its cultural heritage?
  • What can be done with regard to recovery and reparations in the context of the destruction of cultural heritage in Ukraine?

At tomorrow’s meeting, Eloundou Assomo may describe how UNESCO is assisting Ukrainian authorities in protecting cultural sites. In this regard, he may note that at the outset of the war, UNESCO provided technical advice to cultural professionals on the protection of buildings, identified shelters that could house cultural artefacts, and reinforced fire-fighting measures. UNESCO also assisted Ukrainian authorities in marking cultural heritage sites with the Blue Shield emblem, indicating their protection under the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

The 1954 Hague Convention is the first and most comprehensive multilateral treaty dedicated to the protection of cultural heritage, including during armed conflict. Russia and Ukraine are states parties to the convention, having ratified it in 1957. They are also parties to the convention’s first protocol, which prohibits the exportation and retention of cultural property from occupied territories. Only Ukraine is a party to the convention’s second protocol, which provides a higher level of protection, or “enhanced protection”, for cultural property of the greatest importance for humanity.

At tomorrow’s meeting, several members are likely to call for the respect of international law, in particular compliance with the Hague Convention. Some members may also recall Security Council resolution 2347, which recognised that deliberate destruction or appropriation of cultural property may constitute a war crime under particular circumstances. Some members are expected to condemn Russia for allegedly destroying cultural heritage in Ukraine and looting cultural property in the territory it has occupied in Ukraine.

Members may also refer to other broader issues related to the conflict in Ukraine, such as concerns about the intensification of missile attacks throughout the country. In this regard, some members are likely to raise the 14 July missile attack that struck a building in the city of Vinnytsia in central Ukraine. According to media reports, the attack resulted in over 100 civilian casualties, including at least 23 deaths. A 14 July note to correspondents said that Secretary-General António Guterres is “appalled” by the attack and that he “condemns any attacks against civilians or civilian infrastructure and reiterates his call for accountability for such violations”. In a 14 July tweet, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called the attack “an act of terrorism” and said that Russia should be legally recognised as a “terrorist state”.

Russia may deny these accusations and is likely to accuse Ukraine of violating its commitments under international law to preserve monuments and cultural heritage. On 18 April, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on Facebook accusing Ukraine and other countries of attempting to “rewrite and falsify history” by desecrating and vandalising Soviet war memorial sites.

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