Photo 15:33 01 Mar 2024

United for Justice. United for Heritage: Ukraine holds conference devoted to Russia's destruction of cultural monuments

Photo: Office of the Prosecutor General

The United for Justice. United for Heritage conference has opened in Kyiv, bringing together a circle of political and legal experts.

The event is dedicated to many cases of Ukrainian cultural heritage being destroyed due to Russian aggression, Rubryka reports, citing the Prosecutor General's Office.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and Prosecutor General Andrii Kostin opened the international conference, which aims to consolidate the global community efforts to assess the damages inflicted on Ukraine's cultural heritage by the war.

Photo: Office of the Prosecutor General

Over the course of two years of aggressive war against Ukraine, more than 900 cultural sites have been destroyed or damaged, and more than 40 museums have been looted, according to Prosecutor General Andrii Kostin.

"Over 900 destroyed and damaged cultural sites, more than 40 Ukrainian museums looted, tens of thousands of stolen cultural artifacts. The cultural heritage, history, religion, and memory of Ukraine have become deliberate targets of Russia's encroachments on Ukraine's sovereignty, statehood, and identity," said the prosecutor general.

He stressed that the concepts of "culture" and "nation" are intrinsically connected in the context of national identity, so the destruction of cultural elements becomes a means of destroying the nation's identity during war.

The event brought together a wide range of political and legal experts. Distinguished guests and leading experts discussed ensuring Russia's accountability for war crimes against Ukrainian statehood, culture, and national identity, as well as the protection of cultural heritage.

Photo: Office of the Prosecutor General

Ladislav Hamran, President of Eurojust, addressed the attendees, saying he has no doubt about the effectiveness of Russian war crime investigations in Ukraine. Crimes against Ukraine's cultural heritage also fall within the jurisdiction of Eurojust.

"We must do everything possible to investigate and prosecute cases to the end. Since March 2022, my office has continued its work investigating various crimes committed in Ukraine. We have established an office in Kyiv and are working throughout Ukraine," said Hamran, adding he has no doubt we would see the results of this tireless work.

Photo: Office of the Prosecutor General

Attacks across all regions of Ukraine that destroy cultural monuments, he said, have become a pattern, typical behavior of occupiers on Ukrainian territory. Such attacks are conducted to demoralize Ukrainians, "demoralize communities in which these cultural objects are located."

The Rome Statute grants Eurojust the authority to investigate crimes against cultural heritage. This applies to structures enjoying special protection, religious buildings, and historical monuments. If they are attacked, it constitutes a crime under the Rome Statute.

"We must do everything possible to ensure that these crimes do not go unpunished. Culture is our heart, our DNA. And attacks on cultural objects are attacks on what is an integral part of ourselves," he concluded.

Online presentations were made by European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders, Director-General of the Directorate for Human Rights and Rule of Law of the Council of Europe Christos Giakoumopoulos, and Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Karim Khan.

Photo: Office of the Prosecutor General

The conference is attended by the Minister of Justice of the Republic of Poland and the Prosecutor Generals of Lithuania, Latvia, and Romania.

The crimes of the Russian Federation against Ukraine's cultural heritage may qualify as crimes against humanity and also relate to genocide and the crime of aggression, Ladislav Hamran, head of Eurojust, said.

"When the invasion began, President Putin made no secret of his goal to destroy the identity and culture of the Ukrainian nation," said Hamran.

Through crimes against Ukraine's cultural heritage, Russia seeks not only to destroy Ukrainian traditions and culture but also the right of Ukrainians to exist. The head of Eurojust believes that national and international legal systems must make every effort to ensure that crimes against Ukraine's cultural heritage, such as war crimes, do not go unpunished.

He stated that crimes against cultural heritage also qualify as crimes against humanity. Hamran pointed out that crimes against cultural heritage are also related to the crime of aggression.

"We have a collective responsibility to protect Ukrainian culture and ensure that justice is served," said the head of Eurojust.

The Joint Investigation Team for the investigation of the most serious international crimes committed in Ukraine (JIT) is also meeting on the sidelines of the conference.

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