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Ukrainian cultural heritage under threat

Updated: Oct 21, 2022

Targeting a country’s #culturalheritage is a deliberate and criminal attack at the very heart of that nation. #Ukrainian cultural heritage is currently in danger due to the ongoing #Russian aggression.

Throughout the last century, international law has developed in a way to strengthen the protection of #buildings, #monuments, #artefacts and #museums during armed conflicts. The 1899 Hague Convention criminalised deliberate destruction of #heritage sites. The 1935 Treaty on the Protection of Artistic and Scientific Institutions and Historic Monuments further enhances the necessity to protect such sites from the aftermaths of war.

The 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict established for the first time a legal framework to identify cultural property to be protected. It also addresses the issue of evacuation and restitution. Both #Ukraine and #Russia are parties to this fundamental convention.

Moreover, the 1972 Unesco Convention concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage created the List of World Heritage in Danger, which consists of sites of particular importance for humankind that deserve immediate protection in case of armed conflict. Ukraine is the homeland of seven World Heritage Sites, including the historical city centre of Lviv, the wooden churches of the Carpathian region, and St. Sophia’s Cathedral of Kyiv. Among those damaged by the Russian aggression are the cities of Kharkiv and Chernihiv, which host the coutry’s largest art collections, and the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center of Kyiv.

Article 8 of the International Criminal Court's Rome Statute, adopted in 1998, establishes that crimes of destruction of cultural heritage during belligerencies constitute #warcrimes and, therefore, are to be brought before the International Court of Justice. Unfortunately, both Ukraine and Russia are currently not parties to this treaty, which makes it even more complex to properly address and punish Russian war crimes on Ukrainian cultural heritage, as the two states would need to accept the jurisdiction of the ICJ.

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