Simon Wiesenthal Center to UNESCO: Russia Should be Barred from Hosting World Heritage Conference
March 7, 2022
The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) today called on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to remove Russia from hosting the World Heritage Conference in June in light of Russia’s ongoing brutal invasion of Ukraine.
SWC also urged UNESCO and UN Secretary General António Guterres to take immediate steps to protect all religious and cultural sites in Ukraine following Putin’s forces damaging the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial and a Russian Orthodox Church.
Dr. Shimon Samuels, the SWC’s Director for International Relations, expressed SWC’s objections regarding the location of the conference to UNESCO Director General Audrey Azulay. Samuels noted that the 45th Session of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) of UNESCO is scheduled to be held in Kazan, Russia, in June 2022. “Ironically, the WHC Bureau Chairperson is from the Russian Federation," Samuels said.
The World Heritage Convention is charged with addressing the protection of world cultural and natural heritage sites. SWC, which is an Associate Partner to UNESCO and the only Jewish organization accredited to the World Heritage Committee, urged that the conference be moved to the UN agency’s Paris headquarters.
Samuels wrote that if UNESCO officials don't change the venue, “the Wiesenthal Center would not be attending.”
Center officials also urged UNESCO and UN Secretary General António Guterres to take immediate steps to protect all religious and cultural sites in Ukraine following damage to the sacred Holocaust memorial at Babi Yar.
Putin’s March 1st attack centered on a Ukrainian TV tower used for state broadcasting, but also damaged the Babi Yar Holocaust memorial, the site of one of the worst massacres of Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II.
Babi Yar is a ravine in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and on Sept. 29 and 30, 1941, more than 33,000 Jews were executed in what has been called the largest mass killing by the Nazis. It is estimated that between 100,000 and 150,000 people were killed at Babi Yar during the German occupation of Ukraine.
Following the attack, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky issued a stirring video plea charging Putin with trying to erase Ukraine’s history and identity. Zelensky, the Jewish Ukrainian president whose relatives were Holocaust victims, charged that the Soviets built a TV station and sports complex “on the bones” of the Jews murdered there “to erase the true history of Babi Yar.” He accused Putin of “killing Holocaust victims for the second time.”
“Don’t you see why this [is] happening?” Zelensky said. “That is why it is very important that millions of Jews around the world do not remain silent right now. Nazism is born in silence. So shout about the killings of civilians. Shout about the killings of Ukrainians.”
“This madness must end," said SWC Director of United Nations Relations and Strategic Partnerships Eric J. Greenberg. "We will not be silent or rest until the attacks and killing of Ukrainian civilians stops, the onslaught against a sovereign state is reversed, and its religious and cultural sites are protected.”
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The Simon Wiesenthal Center is one of the largest international Jewish human rights organizations with over 400,000 member families in the United States. It is an NGO at international agencies including the United Nations, UNESCO, the OSCE, the OAS, the Council of Europe and the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino).