VILNIUS – Following an extraordinary session of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, sixteen European countries, including Lithuania, turned to UNESCO’s leaders over Russia’s participation in UNESCO’s top bodies, which they deemed illegal, the Secretariat of the Lithuanian National Commission for UNESCO reported on Tuesday.
“We want to emphasize repeatedly that an aggressor country that is ruining and destroying cultural and historic heritage, religious sites, museums and schools of another sovereign state has no moral right to hold positions in UNESCO’s top bodies. Russia’s illegal “re-election” to the Bureau of the World Heritage Committee implies disrespect of both Ukraine, which is living through the horrors of the war, and of the values advocated by UNESCO itself,” a press release from the secretariat quoted Jolanta Balciuniene, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Lithuania to the permanent representation at UNESCO, as saying.
Member states from Central and Eastern Europe sent a letter to the chairperson of the World Heritage Committee, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador-permanent delegate to UNESCO, and the organization’s top leaders, expressing their strong disapproval of Russia’s membership in the Bureau of the World Heritage Committee, following the election of Russia’s representative as a vice-chairperson of the Bureau, which they described as unprecedented.
The letter was signed by member states of the Electoral Group II: Albania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Croatia, Latvia, Poland, Lithuania, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, North Macedonia, and Ukraine.
The Bureau of the World Heritage Committee consists of seven States Parties elected annually and currently includes representatives of Saudi Arabia, India, Argentina, Italy, South Africa, Thailand, and Russia.
According to the press release, the decision to choose Russia as a member of the Bureau of the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee was made in spite of the existing rules of procedure and work procedures of the Committee.
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee held its extraordinary session on January 24–25.
The Committee's 45th session was initially scheduled to take place in Kazan, Russia, in June 2022 but was postponed after a number of countries warned they would boycott the event if it took place on Russian soil or if it were chaired by Russia. In November, however, Alexander Kuznetsov, Russia’s ambassador to UNESCO, resigned from his post, bringing an end to Russia’s mandate as chair of the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee and clearing the path for the Committee to resume work.
The letter called on the chairperson of the World Heritage Committee, its member states and UNESCO leadership to maintain a principled stance towards Russia.
In addition, signatories to the letter expressed hope that, while preparing for the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee that would take place in Riyadh on September 10–25, the organization would adopt decisions that would comply with its mission and values and would eliminate the role of Russia, as a vice-chairperson, in future discussions.
Russia’s membership in the Bureau will continue until the upcoming election, which would take place during the 45th session of the Committee.