Politicking and World Heritage

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Feature story - 20 June, 2013
Due to the observations of Greenpeace representative the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee has been turned into the “political show” that does not allow to discuss constructively the problems of the UNESCO World Heritage properties’ preservation.

It occurred to a large extent due to the active actions of the Russian delegation and friendly to it delegations of a number of other countries. Andrey Petrov, Greenpeace Russia World Heritage Campaign coordinator informs from the venue:

This Committee session is a 9th one in my “record of service” and I see that from year to year the bigger number of people worrying about the integrity of the most valuable natural and cultural properties recognized by UNESCO as the heritage of the whole mankind, arrive to these sessions. It is absolutely natural because the World Heritage List grows from year to year.
From the other side the impression that the World Heritage Committee more and more turns into some politicized structure that least of all worries about really existing and potential problems of one or another World Heritage property, strengthens.

21 States Parties to the Convention Concerning Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage are now in the composition of the Committee. They are the representatives of all World regions: Europe and North America, Asia and Pacific, Latin America and Caribbean, Africa and Arab States. It would seem that such a representative composition can really defend the interests of World Heritage properties’ preservation on their territories. Unfortunately in many cases it does not occur.

Interest in preservation of the World Heritage properties is noticeable (and it is not only my opinion) only among three existing Committee members. They are such European countries as Germany, Switzerland and Estonia. Russian Federation and India stand on politicized, sometimes destructive and at that very active position. Other 16 countries represent somehow or other the silent majority. Maybe France, South Africa, Mali and Senegal are a little bit more active then others. And that is very sad!

Russia this year is doubtless the informal leader of the Committee. It would seem that it is a reason for being glad! But it can’t be realized! The vast Russian official delegation is ubiquitous. It communicates with the delegates, persuades, explains and inclines to its side. At that unfortunately all this is done by no means not in favor of World Heritage properties; preservation.

All last years our country leads in a number of World Cultural and Natural properties that are under different threats. As soon as these threats are “conformed by governing bodies” the main task of the Russian delegation as inside the hall as in the lobby is pushing of decisions that in fact legalize the descendent in the country violations of the Convention Concerning Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage demands. It is necessary to mark that our delegation rather successfully manage that.

Yesterday the problems of 5 among 10 existing World Natural Heritage properties in Russia were discussed on the session. All these problems seriously worry the experts of the World Heritage Center and IUCN. These properties are the next: Lake Baikal, Golden Mountains of Altai, Volcanoes of Kamchatka, Western Caucasus and Virgin Komi Forests.

The discussion of Baikal issues was slightly race through because exactly at that day the Russian Prime-Minister D.Medvedev again but more officially announced about coming closure of the Baikalsk Pulp & Paper Mill. It is an obvious victory of the Russian public but a lot of other threats still exist on Baikal. The discussion of Altai problems also was slowed down by the announcement that Gazprom within the few years does not plan the gas pipeline construction via Ukok Plateau. It is necessary to underline that nothing was informed about final refusal from this project.
The most interesting events took place around the most problematic Russian World Natural heritage properties.

Thanks to the thoroughly worked out “special operation” the discussion of the Western Caucasus problems has been turned into the juggling of words. The soften amendments to the draft decision suggested by South Africa (in fact – by Russia) were discussed for a long period of time. The emphasis was made on what term should be used during the description of the capital construction objects that are not permitted to be constructed on the territory of the Lagonaki Plateau. As a result the most important point about construction of the so-cold “Biosphere” Environmental Center inside the Caucasus Nature Reserve and of the road leading to it was “lost”. And as a whole the complete decision became much more “toothless”.

The discussion of the Virgin Komi Forests World Heritage property became a very representative one. Lasting for several years the systematic destruction of one of the parts of the Yugyd Va National Park to please the planned gold mining several times induced the World Heritage Committee to make decisions about inadmissibility of such activities. This year the draft decision was unprecedented. It was suggested to inscribe the Virgin Komi Forests into the World Heritage in Danger List.  To a deep regret the politicking has won. It is lamentably doubly that the necessary to the Russian delegation amendments were introduced by Serbia that normally has much more weighed position on problem properties in other countries.

Germany, Switzerland and Estonia as well unexpectedly to me joined them Columbia spoke in favor to inscription to the World Heritage in Danger List. But hyper active Indian delegation and personally the Indian ambassador to UNESCO has drawn in empty talk all reasonable suggestions. As soon as everything that occur on stage and inside the hall is translated on large screen we had a possibility to observe how the Indian ambassador after rather serious statements started to wink provocatively and during the discussion of the Russian properties all the time “run up” to the Russian Delegation (apparently for instructions). After that he made rather loud statements.

As a result the decision about creation of the conciliatory commission for working out the final decision regarding Komi was made. Representatives of Serbia, India, Germany and Switzerland (or 50 to 50) have entered it. The final decision was announced today in the morning. As it was expected the inscription in the In Danger List did not occur.

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