Ukraine – Russia violations of cultural rights will impede post-war healing, UN expert

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GENEVA, Switzerland – The multi-layered violations of cultural rights in Ukraine will have devastating effects in the post-war era, a UN human rights expert warned Wednesday.

“As in other conflicts, we currently witness the unfolding of suffering in Ukraine that does not seem to end and we cannot stop,” said Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur on cultural rights. “The questioning and denial of the Ukrainian identity and history as a justification for war, is a violation of the Ukrainians’ right to self-determination and their cultural rights.

“Self-identification is the paramount expression of these rights and all discussions, by States and in social media, should respect this.”

The expert said that the considerable loss of cultural heritage and destruction of cultural artefacts was worrying for the identity of both Ukrainians and minorities within Ukraine, and would impact the establishment of a peaceful multicultural society after the end of the war.

Xanthaki expressed her concern over the damage of city centres, cultural sites and monuments and museums housing important collections. “These are all part of the identity of people in Ukraine; their loss will have a lasting effect,” the expert said. She shared UNESCO’s concern that cultural life in its entirety is at risk of disappearing.

The expert said the cultural rights of all individuals, including Ukrainians, Russians and other members of minorities living within Ukraine, the Russian Federation, and elsewhere must be fully respected and protected.

“As the battles rage on, we are not completely powerless,” she said. “Beyond recalling that the rules of international humanitarian and human rights law should be scrupulously applied by all parties to the conflict, we must ensure that culture helps us maintain our dignity and is not used as a means to pursue and fuel the war.

“We often do not measure how devastating violations of cultural rights can be for peace. Attempts against academic and artistic freedoms, linguistic rights, falsification and distortion of historical facts, denigration of identities and denial of the right to self-determination result to further degeneration and fueling of open conflict.”

The expert paid tribute to many cultural professionals in Ukraine devoted to protecting the heritage resources in danger and resorting to artistic expression to express their rejection of the war and call for peace.

The Special Rapporteur also expressed her regret about the indiscriminate exclusion of Russian artists from cultural events. “I am saddened by the numerous restrictions affecting Russian artists in retaliation for the actions of the Russian government, as well as by the deprogramming of sometimes centuries-old works of art from Russian writers or composers”. Xanthaki referred to reports of Russian musicians impeded from performing or taking part in competitions, and of Russian artists requested to publicly take sides.

“It is especially in this situation of continuous dehumanization, that culture and cultural rights must be visible and visibly push for humanity, empathy and peaceful co-existence,” she said.

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