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Looting of archeological monuments of Ukraine in Crimea: counteracting impunity

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There are many archeological monuments of antiquity, the Middle Ages and modern times on the territory of the Crimean peninsula. The legislation of Ukraine[1] stipulates that all archeological monuments, including those under water, including movable objects, are state property.

After the occupation, the Russian Federation not only appropriated the lands and subsoil of Crimea, but also began to use the occupied peninsula as a source of archaeological artifacts, actively supporting the activities of public and private companies aimed at exploration and excavation of historic sites.

Such destructive activities have led to the loss of scientific value of archaeological excavations. Much of the artifacts remain unexplored and unappreciated in terms of their significance as cultural heritage, as archeological excavations are carried out mainly by people who have no experience with Crimean material, do not have knowledge of soil characteristics and natural conditions of the Crimean peninsula.

At the same time, there are reasonable grounds to believe that the archeological finds obtained during the excavations are systematically moving outside the occupied territory.

Excavations on the Crimean peninsula are not controlled by Ukraine as a sovereign state. The lack of control over archeological activities in the occupied territories has created conditions under which the occupying authorities de facto use such activity as a tool to destroy those monuments that hinder the construction of a large-scale military bridgehead on the peninsula.

In order to justify the chaotic and reckless activity on Ukrainian archeological monuments (and in the immediate vicinity of them), the Russian Federation is trying to give such activity signs of archeological activity. To this end, it attracts its citizens, who are employees of well-known Russian budget institutions of science and culture, including the State Hermitage, the Institute of History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences. archaeological research in the Crimea.

The occupying power does not hide the fact of removal of archeological artifacts from the occupied peninsula. For example, Academician N. Makarov, Vice President of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Director of the Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Doctor of Historical Sciences, directly states: “Materials of excavations in the Crimea have become the most important component of the two largest archaeological collections in Russia – the State Hermitage and the State Historical Museum.[2]

How does Ukraine react to lawlessness?

The state authorities of Ukraine are taking certain measures aimed at counteracting the illegal activities of the occupying power in Crimea.

Thus, investigative units of the National Police of Ukraine under the procedural guidance of the Prosecutor’s Office of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol are investigating certain facts of illegal destruction and damage to cultural heritage sites or parts thereof committed against monuments of national importance.

According to the decision of the National Security and Defense Council, decisions were made on the application of personal restrictive measures against persons whose actions pose a threat to the national interests of Ukraine.

On March 19, 2019, on the basis of the Decree of the President of Ukraine, the relevant decision of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine was enacted and sanctions were applied, including 23 (twenty-three) individuals involved in illegal exploration, destruction, destruction or damage to objects of cultural heritage of Ukraine in the Crimea, including some employees of the State Hermitage, the Institute of History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Later, on May 14, 2020, on the basis of the Decree of the President of Ukraine, sanctions were applied, in particular to legal entities – cultural institutions, science of the Russian Federation, including the State Hermitage, Institute of History of Material Culture, RAS, Institute of Oriental Studies, RAS Organization “Russian Geographical Society”.

At the same time, the State Hermitage, the Institute of History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Russian Geographical Society, the Moscow State Pedagogical University and the so-called Black Sea Center for Underwater Research and other institutions of science and culture of the Russian Federation continue their illegal activities. Of Ukraine.

Earlier in our materials we covered some facts of illegal activities of Russian institutions of science and culture, de facto looting of Ukrainian cultural heritage (ancient cities of Kite, Nymphaeum, Accra, Mirmeki, etc.).

Qualification in international and national law

Although the Government of the Russian Federation does not recognize the existence of an international armed conflict with Ukraine, including the occupation of the Crimean Peninsula, this does not mean that such a policy of the Russian Federation exempts it from its duties as an occupying power. international law.

The norms of international humanitarian law (hereinafter – IHL)[3] impose on the occupying Power at least the following responsibilities in the field of protection of cultural heritage:

Negative commitments

  1. To refrain from the use of valuables and adjacent areas for purposes that may lead to their destruction or damage;
  2. To refrain from hostile actions directed against such values, and from the use of cultural values ​​in order to achieve a military goal, unless the circumstances of imperative military necessity so require;
  3. Refrain from any repressive measures against cultural values;
  4. To refrain from requisitioning movable cultural values ​​on the territory of another state, from the application of reprisals against cultural values.

Positive commitments

  1. Act in such a way as to protect cultural heritage;
  2. Prohibit, prevent or stop any encroachment on cultural property;
  3. Take the necessary measures to protect and preserve cultural property damaged during hostilities, if the need arises and the national competent authorities of the occupied territory are unable to take such measures;
  4. Prevent the export of cultural property from the occupied territories.

Persons guilty of encroaching on cultural heritage sites are individually criminally liable. The qualification of such acts under the Criminal Code of Ukraine depends on the subject of the crime, the nature of the act, the seriousness and scale of its consequences and the relationship with the armed conflict.

In general, such acts can be qualified as general criminal offenses against public order and morality (Article 298 “Illegal search of archaeological heritage sites, destruction, destruction or damage to cultural heritage sites”), or as war crimes (Article 438 ” Violation of the laws and customs of war “).

Given the priority of this area, the Prosecutor’s Office of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol in January 2021 created an interagency working group to combat criminal offenses against cultural property, as well as causing damage, damage, destruction, loss of cultural property in the temporarily occupied territory.

It included specialists, experts and scientists from the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine, the Representation of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the National Kyiv-Pechersk Historical and Cultural Reserve, the Institute of Archeology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, the Institute of State and Law. V.M. Koretsky NAS of Ukraine, representatives of public organizations “Euromaidan – Crimea”, “Regional Center for Human Rights” and “Crimean Institute for Strategic Studies”.

During the period of work of such a group, 15 reports of criminal offenses against cultural values ​​were received from human rights organizations of the Regional Center for Human Rights and the Euromaidan-Crimea NGO. The Prosecutor’s Office of the Autonomy entered information into the Unified Register of Pre-trial Investigations and initiated 15 criminal proceedings on the grounds of criminal offenses under Part 1 of Art. 298 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.

According to the Prosecutor’s Office of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, which was announced at the end of 2021 during the international round table “Crimea under the power of gerostrati”, organized by NGOs part of the Crimean Platform expert network, including the Regional Center for Human Rights , The Crimean Center for Business and Cultural Cooperation “Ukrainian House”, as well as the National Council of Ukrainians of Crimea, law enforcement agencies of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol are investigating 23 criminal proceedings illegal search, archeological works, export of cultural values ​​from the temporarily occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol on the grounds of criminal offenses under Part 1 of Art. 438, h.h. 1, 3 st. 298, part 1 of Art. 332-1, art. 341, art. 356, part 2 of Art. 201 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.

The pre-trial investigation is divided into 3 categories:

– on the facts of intentional destruction of immovable objects of cultural heritage;

– on the facts of intentional destruction, destruction or damage of historical or cultural monuments, illegal search, archeological works, removal of cultural values ​​from the temporarily occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol;

– on the facts of export of cultural values ​​from the temporarily occupied territory of the Crimean peninsula.

Suspicions of suspicion of persons within the framework of these criminal proceedings are currently pending.

Importantly, on May 20, 2021, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine passed the Law on Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine on the Implementation of International Criminal and Humanitarian Law, which supplemented the Criminal Code with acts constituting war crimes[4]. Among other things, the Code included Article 4385 (“War crimes against cultural property under the protection of international humanitarian law”), which provides for liability for the following acts:

  1. Intentional acts in connection with an international armed conflict or a non-international armed conflict in violation of international humanitarian law on cultural property protected by international humanitarian law, assault, seizure or acts of vandalism shall be punishable by seven to thirteen years’ imprisonment.
  2. Acts provided for in part one of this article, which are of a large-scale nature or have been committed in respect of a cultural property under enhanced protection, a unique cultural property or a World Heritage Site, shall be punishable by seven to fifteen years’ imprisonment. .
  3. Intentional use in connection with an international armed conflict or an armed conflict of a non-international nature in violation of international humanitarian law of cultural property under enhanced protection or adjacent places to support hostilities – shall be punishable by imprisonment for a term of eight to twelve years.
  4. The act provided for in part three of this article, which is of a large-scale nature, shall be punishable by imprisonment for a term of ten to fifteen years.»

Currently, the Law of Ukraine, which creates additional opportunities for the state to bring to justice those involved in crimes against cultural heritage in the occupied territories, is signed by the President of Ukraine.

Individual criminal liability can also occur at the international level.

In the Rome Statute, among the war crimes, one can find a number of corpus delicti that may be directly related to cultural heritage sites, namely:

– gross violations of the Geneva Conventions, including illegal, disorderly and large-scale destruction and misappropriation of property (Article 8 (2) (a) (iv));

– attacks and bombings of buildings that are not protected and are not military objects of Art. 8 (2) (b) (c));

– intentional targeting of religious, educational, artistic, scientific buildings, historical monuments that are not military objects (Article 8 (2) (b) (ix));

– destruction or seizure of enemy property, unless it is an imperative military necessity (Article 8 (2) (b) (xiii));

– looting of a city or town (Article 8 (2) (b) (xvi)).

Encroachment on cultural property may also be considered a crime against humanity, namely the persecution of a particular group or association on cultural, religious grounds in connection with any crime under the jurisdiction of the ICC (Article 7 (1)). h) the Rome Statute).

In August 2021, the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine together with the Regional Center for Human Rights, Euromaidan-Crimea, and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union prepared and submitted to the International Criminal Court of Ukraine crimes against Ukraine’s cultural heritage in Crimea.

However, despite the close cooperation of some public authorities (prosecutors of Ukraine) and civil society institutions in the field of protection of Ukraine’s cultural heritage in Crimea from the destructive state policy of the Russian Federation, the current results of joint activities cannot be considered sufficient for proper heritage protection.

In our opinion, both national and international institutions are not fully aware of the danger of a weak position on countering Russian aggression in the cultural sphere.

However, the reason for this behavior seems to be the lack of awareness of the dangers of the aggressor state’s excessively active, daring humanitarian activities on the occupied peninsula, which should be described as a way of waging war between Ukraine and Ukraine in 2014.

Objects of material cultural heritage of Ukraine are a reflection and expression of values, beliefs, knowledge and traditions of the Ukrainian people, which was formed on the territory of the modern state, including in the Crimea.

Numerous facts of damage and destruction of cultural heritage sites of Ukraine in Crimea cause irreparable damage to the national interests of Ukraine.

The involvement of the occupiers in the illegal activities of the leading institutions of science, education and culture of the Russian Federation, including the State Hermitage and institutions of the Russian Academy of Sciences, increases the threat of impunity for destruction of cultural heritage sites due to business, scientific and cultural ties these institutions and their employees with scientific, cultural, political circles of foreign countries.

Progressive democratic development of Ukraine is impossible without ensuring the preservation of the cultural heritage of the Ukrainian people as one of the vital interests of the people and the state, and therefore the organization of illegal archaeological activities in Crimea, foreign individuals and legal entities complicates or makes impossible the realization of national interests, defined in particular in Article 3 of the Law, and the preservation of national values ​​of Ukraine, which is certainly a significant damage to state interests.

That is why the facts of damage and / or destruction of objects of material cultural heritage of Ukraine in the Crimea are subject to proper investigation by the law enforcement agencies of Ukraine, which to some extent is already carried out by our state.

Proper investigation is not an unconditional guarantee of stopping the further destruction by the Russian Federation of Ukraine’s cultural heritage in Crimea, although it is part of a policy to counter Russia’s armed aggression.

Monitoring, detection and proper recording of information on possible violations / destruction of material objects, investigation of such facts, identification of perpetrators and bringing them to justice, disclosure of information on active behavior of the Ukrainian State in protecting its cultural heritage are important components of counteraction destruction of the Russian cultural heritage, as it performs not only a protective function, but also educational, playing a preventive role in social mechanisms.

In addition, the above activities of state authorities of Ukraine are the basis for Ukraine’s use of international instruments and mechanisms to protect its interests in the field of cultural heritage, including judicial, sanction, the use of which the state directly determines the nature and quality of information generated within national mechanisms for protection of cultural heritage during the activities of specially authorized state authorities – the central executive body in the field of cultural heritage protection (currently the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy), law enforcement agencies (national police, Security Service of Ukraine, Prosecutor’s Office, NSDC, etc.)

Of course, the information investigated by law enforcement during the criminal investigation meets higher standards of proof and is therefore a more powerful tool in the hands of Ukrainian diplomats. At the same time, the proper quality of such information is impossible without a procedural assessment of the facts by specialists in the field of culture and science.

Systematic and consistent purposeful activity of all the above-mentioned state authorities of Ukraine with full use of political and legal instruments of international diplomacy is extremely important for the effective protection of Ukraine’s tangible cultural heritage sites, including within the Crimean Platform declared by the Government of Ukraine -coordination format aimed at improving the international response to the ongoing occupation of Crimea, responding to growing security threats, increasing international pressure on the Kremlin, preventing further human rights violations and protecting victims of the occupation regime, and achieving the main goal of deoccupying Crimea and returning it to Ukraine.

The group of monitoring experts of the Regional Center for Human Rights,

the working group of the expert network “Crimean Platform – Humanitarian Policy”

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[1] Article 17 of the Law of Ukraine “On Protection of Cultural Heritage” of June 8, 2000 1805-III.

[2] Crimea – Tavrida. Archaeological research in the Crimea in 2017-2018 in 2 volumes – Moscow: Institute of Archeology, Russian Academy of Sciences, 2019. – Vol. 1. – 420 p.

[3] See in this context, the following sources of international law: the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of 1954 and its Additional Protocols, the 4th Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilian Persons of 1949 and Additional Protocols I and II to the 1977 Geneva Conventions, International Humanitarian Law of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

[4] https://cutt.ly/2nE1MEm

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Implemented within the project “Information Platform” Voice of Crimea. Culture “- about Crimea honestly, qualitatively, actually” with the support of the Media Development Fund of the US Embassy in Ukraine. The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect the official position of the US government.

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