As of 24 February 2022, military forces from the Russian Federation have invaded Ukraine. The International Council of Museums (ICOM) strongly condemns this violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. ICOM is especially concerned about the risks faced by museum professionals as well as the threats to cultural heritage because of this armed conflict. ICOM expects both countries, as States Parties of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the event of armed conflict and its First Protocol, to abide by their international legal obligations to protect heritage.
Already this conflict is deeply distressing and likely to result in an unacceptable loss of life, therefore ICOM calls for a swift ceasefire, immediate mediation between belligerents, and coordinated efforts to ensure the safety of museum personal and protect cultural heritage. In times of conflict and uncertainly like these, ICOM must also express its deep concern the implications this uncertainty will have on the safety and security of ICOM members, museum personnel and cultural heritage in Ukraine.
After first securing their own safety, ICOM advises all its members to recall their professional obligations under the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums to preserve, maintain and promote heritage and ensure their museums and collections are protected against all varieties of risk, including in conflict. Furthermore, ICOM advises all interested parties that there are many online free and accessible tools which can help in crises such as this, including but not limited to: ICOM and UNESCO Museums Security and Disaster Preparedness in Running a Museum: Practice Handbook, ICCROM First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis – Toolkit or UNESCO and ICCROM Endangered heritage: emergency evacuation of heritage collections.
In addition, ICOM invites members of civil society to reach out to their local museums to assist them, if possible, with the ways and means to protect their buildings and collections. As important centres for education, study and enjoyment in local communities, it is important that museums – crucial reference points for local communities – are supported by their local communities.
Finally, outside of the immediate area of conflict, this crisis will provide an opportunity for unscrupulous individuals to profit from the threats to heritage. ICOM warns all interested parties to be vigilant for potential increases in the smuggling of cultural materials coming from the region, and ICOM reminds all national governments in the region of their international legal obligations to protect moveable cultural heritage under the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects, not to mention the other international cultural conventions for the protection of humanities common cultural heritage.
ICOM is working closely with its international partners and stakeholders in the region and monitoring the situation as it evolves. ICOM will continue to offer whatever support it can to alleviate any potential threats the heritage of Ukraine may face in the uncertain days and weeks to come.