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June 28, 2022

FocusICOM is Preparing an Emergency ICOM Red List of Cultural Heritage at Risk for Ukraine

ICOM, in close cooperation with its National Committee in Ukraine, is preparing an Emergency Red List of Cultural Objects at Risk for Ukraine to combat illicit traffic following the invasion.

Since the Russian invasion into Ukraine in February 2022, ICOM, its National Committees, and its members have been working tirelessly to help support their fellow museum professionals in Ukraine, sending material aid and support into the country, organising relief efforts for refugees fleeing the conflict, and issuing strong statements opposing the war and calling for the protection of cultural heritage. ICOM Secretariat has also been engaged in activities, acting as a bridge between relevant stakeholders and liaising with ICOM’s partners at international level to assess the needs and situation on the ground.

“Because of the war, Ukrainian objects are in danger of theft and illicit trafficking. The Ukrainian Minister of Culture and Information Policy is supporting international initiatives from the museum community to protect our national heritage such as the preparation of a Red List for Ukraine”

Kateryna Chuyeva, Deputy Minister of Culture and Information Policy

In times of war, cultural heritage is particularly vulnerable and cultural property is at high risk of theft and being trafficked. In addition, even when museums do maintain regularly updated inventories, a conflict situation increases the threats to cultural heritage and undermines existing preventive measures against theft and trafficking. This is on top of the existing threats to heritage that are common all over the world. All these factors combined, and the increased risks emphasise the importance of creating an Emergency Red List for Ukraine to identify objects at risk. ICOM has a long track record in responding to emergency situations and with a view to protecting heritage from illicit trafficking in conflict zones, ICOM previously produced several Emergency Red Lists of Cultural Objects at risk including for Afghanistan (2006), Iraq (2003 and 2015), Mali (2016) and Yemen (2018). ICOM will build on this expertise to protect cultural heritage in Ukraine by publishing a Red List with the support from the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture and Information Policy.

ICOM is currently working with museum experts from ICOM Ukraine and neighbouring countries to research and determine which objects are most at risk of being illicitly trafficked. In fact, for each Red List, ICOM closely cooperates with art historians and archaeologists from the concerned countries, as these experts are in the best position to ensure that the objects included in the lists appropriately reflect both present and possible future threats.

“Our heritage is under threat, and to protect it, ICOM Ukraine is coordinating a team of experts who are working on an Emergency Red Lists for Ukraine. We know that the international community needs a tool that will help identify Ukrainian objects at risk of being illegally exported, and the ICOM team is mobilized to produce this List as soon as possible”

Anastasiia Cherednychenko, Vice-Chair of ICOM Ukraine

ICOM has been publishing Red Lists for more than 20 years. Each Red List is unique, whether the country is in conflict or not, but despite the different contexts per country, the Red Lists are constructed using a set methodology. Indeed, Red Lists are both flexible and non-exhaustive tools but share a common point by identifying objects protected by law, objects which can be the target of illicit trafficking, and which are also on high demand on the international art market. Archaeological objects, including Scythian materials, are the most important category, but it will also include sections on endangered manuscripts, paintings, objects related to folk art, numismatics, and religious items.

In addition to the production of Red Lists, ICOM continues to foster international cooperation to fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural goods by encouraging the ratification of the international cultural conventions, such as the UNESCO 1970 Convention and the UNIDROIT 1995 Convention, as well as bilateral agreements between states, which are vital in addressing this illicit trade. This Emergency Red List will play an important role in ensuring state parties to these conventions will respect their international obligations. As international cooperation is crucial to fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property, ICOM counts on the support of strong international partners such as INTERPOL and WCO to raise awareness on this multifaceted phenomenon, increase the dissemination of the Red List and support fellow museum colleagues in Ukraine.