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03 June 2022, 10:20

Belarus MFA: Poland violates World Heritage Convention

MINSK, 3 June (BelTA) - Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chairman of the National Commission of the Republic of Belarus for UNESCO Vladimir Makei has sent a message to the heads of the National Commissions for UNESCO of foreign countries in connection with Poland's construction of a fence in the area of the last and largest European relict forest, the UNESCO World Heritage Site Belovezhskaya Pushcha, BelTA learned from the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Belarusian minister of foreign affairs expressed extreme concern about Poland's construction of a fence at the site. “Belovezhskaya Pushcha is the last and largest primeval plain forest in Europe, which has been preserved to this day in its pristine state and includes vast untouched areas of old-growth forests. Creation of an artificial obstacle on the territory of the site violates the principle of free movement of biological species within their natural habitat and poses a serious threat to sustainable existence and conservation of populations of ungulates (bison, deer, roe deer, elks) and carnivores (bears, wolves, and foxes). We regret to note that there have already been facts of death of large mammals: bison, deer and roe deer,” the minister said.

He also expressed the opinion: “Taking into account the scale of the works carried out by Poland to build the fence, we can foresee the following serious negative consequences for the ecosystems of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Belovezhskaya Pushcha: fragmentation of the forest complex and protected habitats; breaking of transboundary ecological corridors; cutting of the adjacent strip of old-growth forests; destruction of the living ground cover during construction works; breaking of the hydrological regime of the forest; blocking of migration routes and seasonal movements of animals, the subsequent depletion of the gene pool of their populations; appearance of new ways for alien plant species to enter natural ecosystems.

Vladimir Makei said that he would like to draw attention to Poland's unprecedented violation of the provisions of the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, according to which a state party should take all necessary measures to ensure the protection and conservation of cultural and natural heritage located on its territory.

“In accordance with paragraph 11 of the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, assessment of the impact of proposed interventions is fundamentally important for all World Heritage sites,” the Belarusian minister of foreign affairs said.

“The Polish side, despite our repeated requests, has not yet provided information about the details of the construction of the fence and the assessment of its impact on the outstanding universal value of the site,” the minister continued. “The World Heritage Center has also requested the Polish side to submit to UNESCO an assessment of the impact of the construction of the fence on the site for review by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and called on the Polish authorities to suspend the construction works until the situation is fully investigated and assessed in accordance with the Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention.

The minister also stressed that Poland's decision to build a border fence was not agreed with the Belarusian side and completely contradicts the recommendation of the joint World Heritage Center/IUCN reactive monitoring mission (2018) - to revisit the discussion on improving the connectivity of the ecosystem of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha, including across the state border between Belarus and Poland.

The state of conservation of the transboundary World Heritage Site Belovezhskaya Pushcha will be considered at the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee.

The Belarusian minister of foreign affairs asked his counterparts to support Belarus and urge the Polish government to stop construction of the fence on the territory of the World Heritage Site Belovezhskaya Pushcha, dismantle the already installed barrier and immediately begin an adequate process to eliminate the damage caused to the ecological systems of the site.

“I count on your support in finding effective solutions to this situation in the spirit of cooperation and partnership and I confirm our readiness to cooperate with all the parties involved in the matter,” Vladimir Makei stressed.

Earlier, spokesperson for the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Anatoly Glaz said that Belarus once again confirmed its readiness to cooperate with Poland and relevant international structures on the issue of preserving Belovezhskaya Pushcha, including the invitation of monitoring missions to assess the damage caused by Poland's construction activities to the ecological systems of the site and to develop adequate measures to eliminate its consequences.

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