Unesco is facing growing calls to relocate its next World Heritage Committee session from Kazan, Russia, following the invasion of Ukraine. Organisations such as the European heritage advocacy group Europa Nostra and the UK culture minister, Nadine Dorries, say that Russia should be blocked from hosting the annual meeting at which the list of World Heritage sites is approved. This year’s event is scheduled from 19 to 30 June under the chairmanship of the Russian Federation.
In March, Unesco said it was “gravely concerned” about damage caused by Russia’s armed forces in the cities of Kharkiv and Chernihiv and called for the protection of Ukrainian cultural heritage, including the country’s seven World Heritage sites. But the UN agency says there are currently no plans to relocate the 45th World Heritage Committee session from Kazan.
Europa Nostra “strongly believes that the Russian Federation must withdraw as Chair of this year’s World Heritage Committee” in light of “deliberate attacks by Russia’s army which violate the provisions both of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and of the 1972 Unesco World Heritage Convention”, the organisation says in a statement. Dorries told the i newspaper last month that “it is inconceivable that the Unesco conference could be held in Russia and, if it is, the UK will not be attending”.
The Auschwitz Memorial, the institution that preserves the site of the Nazi concentration camp in Poland, tweeted on 5 March that “planning a discussion on World Heritage in Russia sounds like a mockery of innocent Ukrainian victims”. The Art Newspaper also understands that more than 35 academics and arts professionals from around the world have sent a letter to the Unesco World Heritage Committee members, stating that it is “unacceptable to organise the committee meeting in Russia”.
A Unesco spokeswoman says that the World Heritage Committee determines the date and place of its next session, at each session. The committee is composed of 21 member states elected from the 194 countries that have ratified the World Heritage Convention. Russia was elected to a four-year term in 2019.
“The decision by the member states of the World Heritage Committee to hold the 45th session of the Committee in Kazan was taken at the 44th session of the Committee in July 2021 following the invitation by the Russian Federation. A change of location of the 45th session can be decided at this stage by the member states of the World Heritage Committee in the governance bodies dedicated to this committee,” the spokeswoman says.
However, as yet there has been no formal request by member states of the committee to relocate the session, she stresses. Such a decision would require either an extraordinary vote, held at the request of two-thirds of the 21 committee members, or a dedicated meeting of the member states of the committee's annually elected Bureau. This group consists of seven states and is currently chaired by Russia.