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Stop Russia hosting key world heritage meeting over Ukraine, UK urges

LONDON — Britain is lobbying other countries to remove Russia as the host and chair of the next annual meeting of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee because of its invasion of Ukraine.

The committee meets once a year to discuss the management of World Heritage Sites — landmarks and sites granted special legal protection because of their cultural significance — and to accept nominations by countries for additions to the list.

Russia is due to host and chair the next committee meeting in Kazan on June 19-30.

But U.K. Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said going ahead with that plan “would be a tragedy for the world and a scar upon our shared values” in a letter sent Tuesday to countries in the 21-strong committee and shared with POLITICO.

The letter accuses Russian President Vladimir Putin of “barbaric destruction of significant property” in Ukraine and of breaching Russia’s international obligations under the 1954 Hague Convention, aimed at protecting cultural property in conflict.

“The world will not forgive us if we allow the Putin regime to affect to care about the heritage of mankind while it destroys Ukraine’s cities and kills its civilians, including those desperate individuals who took shelter in Mariupol’s theatre,” Dorries wrote.

“As a member of the World Heritage Committee, I urge you to instruct your delegation to UNESCO to act quickly and decisively to remove the Russian Federation’s right to host and chair this year’s meeting.”

The 21-strong committee is made up of a rotating cast of countries that serve stints of up to six years.

However, Britain faces an uphill struggle to get its way, because the decision must be made by the bureau of the committee, which at the moment is comprised of Argentina, Italy, India, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Thailand and Russia.

Of those, only Argentina and Italy voted against Russia in a recent UNESCO resolution condemning Russian aggression.

Under the UNESCO rules, the location of the meeting must be fixed no less than 60 days before it begins, so the U.K. has just one week left to persuade the bureau members to remove Russia as its next host.

The U.K. was among the signatories to a 46-nation open letter sent directly to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee last week demanding action.

“We have only days to prevent this disgraceful charade from happening,” Dorries’ latest letter continues. “If an alternative location and chair cannot be identified in time, then the meeting should be cancelled altogether, as happened in 2020 due to the pandemic.”

Dorries said cancellation is “the very last thing we want in this 50th anniversary year of the Convention.” But the U.K. minister argued that shelving the event altogether “would be the lesser evil compared to the damage which will ensue from a meeting hosted or chaired by President Putin’s regime.”

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