During the 32nd Session, the UNESCO General Conference adopted the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2003, ratified by Italy on 30 October 2007. The adoption of the Convention has become a milestone in the evolution of international policies to promote cultural diversity, since for the first time the international community has recognized the need to support cultural manifestations and expressions that until then had not benefited from such a broad legal and programmatic framework.
Such cultural manifestations also include living traditions or expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to new generations, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.
Despite its fragility, intangible cultural heritage is an important factor in maintaining cultural diversity due to increasing globalization. Understanding the intangible cultural heritage of the different communities contributes to intercultural dialogue and encourages mutual respect between different forms of life.
The importance of intangible cultural heritage is not the cultural manifestation itself, but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that are transmitted between generations through it.
According to the 2003 UNESCO Convention, “intangible cultural heritage” is:
- Traditional, contemporary and living at the same time: intangible cultural heritage does not only represent inherited traditions from the past but also contemporary rural and urban practices in which diverse cultural groups take part;
- Inclusive: we may share expressions of intangible cultural heritage that are similar to those practised by others. Whether they are from the neighbouring village, from a city on the opposite side of the world, or have been adapted by peoples who have migrated and settled in a different region, they all are intangible cultural heritage: they have been passed from one generation to another, have evolved in response to their environments and they contribute to giving us a sense of identity and continuity, providing a link from our past, through the present, and into our future. Intangible cultural heritage does not give rise to questions of whether or not certain practices are specific to a culture. It contributes to social cohesion, encouraging a sense of identity and responsibility which helps individuals to feel part of one or different communities and to feel part of society at large;
- Representative: intangible cultural heritage is not merely valued as a cultural good, on a comparative basis, for its exclusivity or its exceptional value. It thrives on its basis in communities and depends on those whose knowledge of traditions, skills and customs are passed on to the rest of the community, from generation to generation, or to other communities;
- Community-based: intangible cultural heritage can only be heritage when it is recognized as such by the communities, groups or individuals that create, maintain and transmit it – without their recognition, nobody else can decide for them that a given expression or practice is their heritage.
The Operational Directives are the fundamental tool for the implementation of the Convention.
The Directives are periodically updated to implement the decisions of the Intergovernmental Committee and implement the Convention itself.
The document provides criteria and procedures relating to the application of the Convention, and in particular:
- The safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage at international level, international cooperation and assistance;
- The Intangible Cultural Heritage Fund;
- Participation in the implementation of the Convention;
- Increasing awareness of the intangible cultural heritage and the use of the Convention emblem;
- Periodic Reports from States Parties;
- The safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage and sustainable development at national level.
The States Parties the Convention can propose the nomination of new “Elements or projects, activities or programmes of good safeguarding practices” for inscription in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.
To this end, each State, with the participation of the community and the groups of holders and practitioners directly concerned, must define, identify and take inventory of the “Elements” which are intended to be nominated for the Urgent Safeguarding List and the Representative List; at the same time, each State must define “Projects, Activities or Programmes” which are intended to be nominated in the Register of good safeguarding practices.
This inventory taking process is part of the preliminary investigation formally launched and is coordinated by Service I of the General Secretariat of MiBACT.
At the website https://ich.unesco.org it is possible to find all the material relating to the Convention, view the institutional and promotional activities relating to it, while at https://ich.unesco.org/en/directives it is possible to consult and study the operational directives annexed to the Convention for the purpose of its application, including with regard to the contents, methods and activities relating to the nomination pathways.
The nomination formats are directly available and downloadable at https://ich.unesco.org/en/forms, in particular they refer respectively to the nomination proposals for:
- The Urgent Safeguarding List;
- The Representative List;
- The Register of Good Safeguarding Practices.
The preliminary activities, both for national and multinational pathways, involve progressive technical-scientific study phases, in order to guarantee the widest dissemination of the principles of the Convention and the maximum participation of the community and stakeholders. The process includes the participatory inventory taking of the “Elements” that are intended to be nominated, the drafting of the dossiers, the preparation, planning and updating of safeguarding measures, so that the application processes can have sustainable development impacts at local, national and international level.
The state of application of the Convention is subject to a survey by the Secretariat of the Paris Convention, which each State Party must fulfil through the preparation and drafting of the periodic National Report.
1.2 Activation of the nomination
The nomination proposals are submitted to the Italian National Commission for UNESCO which assigns them to the Ministry and/or Ministries responsible for the preliminary investigation.
The competent office responds within 180 days, requesting further information or activating directly applicable initiatives or rejecting the inscription.
In particular, for the purposes of activating the nomination proposal and the preliminary investigation, it is recommended that the following information, among others, is included in the general compilation of the format of the chosen List:
- name and general description of the “Element relating to the Urgent Safeguarding List”, or of the “Representative List Element” or of the “Project/Activity/Programme of Good Safeguarding Practice” which is intended to be nominated and the respective geographical location;
- identification of the community directly involved in the nomination proposal with specific reference to the groups of holders and practitioners;
- list of the safeguarding measures identified for the “Elements” of the Intangible Cultural Heritage proposed for the Urgent Safeguarding List and for the Representative List or which are included in the “Project, Activity or Programme” which is intended to be proposed for the “Register of Good Practices”;
- any indication of inventory, if the “asset” is already registered in any form of cataloguing, including at local or regional level;
- historical-anthropological bibliography of reference and any web references.
1.3 Inclusion in the Italian tentative list and phases of the international evaluation process
The insertion in the National Tentative List for the Intangible Cultural Heritage takes place at an advanced investigatory stage of the nomination proposal and is preliminary to the final evaluation by the CNIU Board of Directors for sending the Convention to the Paris Secretariat, for follow-up and evaluation procedures at international level. This submission has a formal deadline by March 31 for each submission cycle.
The Secretariat of the Convention carries out an initial technical check with respect to the documentation sent, which will be subsequently examined by the International Evaluation Body.
The final decision with respect to the inscription on the lists rests with the Intergovernmental Committee of the Convention, which meets once a year. The same Committee can also decide to defer the proposal to the evaluation of the next cycle – requesting further information or the implementation of the dossier – or refuse inscription.
1.4 Procedures for inscription of elements on the lists and for selecting good safeguarding practices
1.4.a Inscription on the Urgent Safeguarding List
In the nomination dossiers, the State Party is requested to demonstrate that the Element proposed for inclusion on the Urgent Safeguarding List meets all the following criteria:
U.1: the element constitutes intangible cultural heritage as defined in article 2 of the Convention;
a: the element urgently needs to be safeguarded because its vitality is at risk despite the efforts of the community, group or individuals and of the State(s) concerned;
b: the element has an urgent need to be safeguarded because it faces serious threats as a result of which it cannot be expected to survive without immediate safeguarding;
U.3: the safeguarding measures are designed to allow the community, group or individuals concerned to continue the practice and transmission of the element;
U.4: the element is nominated based on the widest possible participation of the community, group or individuals concerned and with their prior, free informed consent.
U.5: the element is included in an inventory of the Intangible Cultural Heritage present in the territory(ies) of the proposing State(s) as defined in Article 11 and Article 12 of the Convention;
U.6: in cases of extreme urgency, the State(s) concerned has (have) been duly consulted regarding the inscription of the element in accordance with Article 17.3 of the Convention.
Timetable and procedures
Phase 1: Preparation and Presentation
- March 31-Year 0
Deadline for requests for preparatory assistance in drafting the nominations.
- March 31-Year 1
Deadline for nominations to be received by the Convention Secretariat. Dossiers received after the deadline will be examined in the next cycle.
- June 30-Year 1
Deadline by which the Secretariat will have checked the completeness of the dossiers. If a dossier is found to be incomplete, the State Party is invited to add to it.
- September 30-Year 1
Deadline by which any information required to complete the dossiers must be submitted by the State Party to the Secretariat. Dossiers that remain incomplete are returned to the States Parties which can complete them for a subsequent cycle.
Phase 2: Evaluation
- December Year 1 – May Year 2
Evaluation of the dossiers by the Evaluation Body.
- April – June Year 2
Meeting for the final evaluation by the Evaluation Body. Starting from the four weeks preceding the session of the Intergovernmental Committee, the dossiers and evaluation reports are available online for consultation by the States Parties.
Phase 3: Examination
- November / December Year 2
The Committee reviews the applications and makes its decisions.
1.4.b Inscription on the Representative List
In the nomination dossiers, the proposing State Party is requested to demonstrate that an element proposed for inclusion on the List meets all the following criteria:
R.1: the element constitutes intangible cultural heritage as defined in article 2 of the Convention;
R.2: the inscription of an Element contributes to ensuring the visibility and awareness of the meaning of the intangible cultural heritage and to encouraging dialogue by being a reflection of the world’s cultural diversity and testimony of human creativity;
R.3: the safeguarding measures are developed to allow the protection and promotion of the Element;
R.4: the Element is nominated based on the widest possible participation of the community, groups or individuals concerned and with their prior, free informed consent;
R.5: the Element is included in an inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage present in the territory(ies) of the proposing State(s) as defined in Article 11 and Article 12 of the Convention.
Timetable and procedures
1.4.c. See timetable and procedures for inscription on the Urgent Safeguarding List.
Selection of proposals for the register of good safeguarding practices
Among the programmes, projects and activities proposed to the Committee by the States Parties, only those that best meet the following criteria are selected:
Criterion 1: The programme, project or activity involves safeguarding as defined in art. 2.3 of the Convention;
Criterion 2: The programme, project or activity promotes the coordination of efforts to safeguard the intangible cultural heritage on regional, sub-regional and/or international levels;
Criterion 3: The programme, project or activity reflects the principles and objectives of the Convention;
Criterion 4: if already concluded, the programme, project or activity must demonstrate the effectiveness of the contribution to the vitality of the intangible cultural heritage concerned. If the programme, project or activity is still ongoing or planned, it is reasonable to expect that it will contribute substantially to the vitality of the intangible cultural heritage concerned;
Criterion 5: The programme, project or activity has been or will be implemented with the participation of the community, group and, if possible, individuals concerned and with their prior, free informed consent;
Criterion 6: The programme, project or activity may serve, as the case may be, as a model for safeguarding activities at sub-regional, regional or international level;
Criterion 7: The Proponent State(s), the implementing body(ies), and the community, group or, if possible, individuals concerned are willing to cooperate in the dissemination of best practices, if their programme, project or activity is selected;
Criterion 8: The programme, project or activity has aspects that permit an evaluation of its results;
Criterion 9: The programme, project or activity is mainly applicable to the needs of developing countries.
Timetable and procedures
See timetable and procedures for inscription on the Urgent Safeguarding List.
Safeguarding measures plan
The intangible cultural heritage linked to the sense of identity and belonging of communities has a fundamental role for the transmission of memory to the new generations, for social cohesion and to encourage inter-cultural dialogue and mutual respect between peoples, cultures and different systems of knowledge and of life. The continuity and safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage are among the aims of the Convention itself (art.1) and contribute to the planning of sustainable development measures, also with a view to preventing and resolving any conflicts and generating positive socio-economic impacts in the life of the communities and of civil society in general, both locally and nationally and internationally.
These prerogatives are aimed at guaranteeing the vitality of the intangible cultural heritage and are pursued through the identification of safeguarding measures, planned and implemented with the direct involvement of the communities, which take into consideration the different areas referred to in the Convention:
identification, documentation, research, maintenance, promotion, enhancement, transmission – in particular through formal and informal education – as well as the revitalisation of the various aspects of the intangible cultural heritage directly concerned.
The Operational Directives of the Convention represent a useful guiding tool for planning an articulated and sustainable safeguarding system, including for the elements of Intangible Cultural Heritage involved in the pathways for recognition in the UNESCO Lists.
At national level, Law n. 77 of 20 February 2006, “Special measures for the protection and use of Italian sites and elements of cultural, landscape and environmental interest, included in the ‘world heritage list’, placed under the protection of UNESCO”, which introduced the Management Plans for the Italian sites already inscribed on the List, in order to ensure their conservation and create the conditions for their enhancement, also provides support measures for the preparation of the Safeguarding Plans for the elements recognised in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.