The cultural and natural heritage represents the reference point, the model, the identity of all the peoples of the world and constitutes the legacy that is to be transmitted from generation to generation.
The outstanding feature that distinguishes the concept of World Heritage is that it applies universally. Properties included in the World Heritage List belong to all the peoples of the world, notwithstanding the territory on which they are situated.
Every country has properties of considerable local or national interest which are, very rightly, a source of national pride. The 1972 Convention encourages States Parties to identify and protect all such properties be they or not inscribed on the World Heritage List.
The concept “outstanding universal value” distinguishes World Heritage properties from all other national heritage. Properties inscribed on the World Heritage List are selected because they possess specific features thanks to which they are the best possible example of the cultural and natural heritage of the whole world. While fully respecting the sovereignty of the States on whose territory properties inscribed on the World Heritage List are situated, States Parties to the Convention recognize “the collective interest of the international community to cooperate in the protection of this heritage”.
Without the support of other countries, some of the world’s more important cultural and natural properties would deteriorate, or worst still, disappear completely often through lack of funding to preserve them. The Conventionn is, therefore, an agreement, ratified nearly universally, aimed at providing intellectual and financial resources (within the limits of their availability) to ensure the conservation of World Heritage properties.
The World Heritage List reflects the wealth and diversity of the world’s cultural and natural heritage.
The idea of creating an international movement for protecting heritage emerged after World War II. The 1972 Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage developed from the merging of two separate movements: the first focussing on the preservation of cultural sites, and the other dealing with the conservation of nature.
Preserving cultural and natural heritage
An exceptional event aroused particular international concern: the decision to build the Assuan High Dam in Egypt. It would have flooded the valley containing the Abu Simbel temples, a treasure of ancient Egyptian civilization. In 1959, after an appeal from the governments of Egypt and Sudan, UNESCO launched an international safeguarding campaign. Archaeological research in the areas to be flooded was accelerated. Above all, the Abu Simbel and Philae temples were dismantled, moved to dry ground and reassembled. The campaign cost about US$80 million, half of which was donated by some fifty countries who put into practice an important operation based on solidarity and shared responsibility in conserving outstanding cultural sites. Its success led to other safeguarding campaigns such as saving Venice (Italy), Moenjodaro (Pakistan), and restoring Borobodur (Indonesia).
The Convention concerning the protection of the World Cultural Heritage was adopted by the UNESCO General Conference on November 16th 1972.
The Convention considers heritage as both cultural and natural, thus reminding us of the ways in which people interact with nature and of the fundamental need to preserve the balance between the two.
The wide-ranging benefit of ratifying the World Heritage Convention is that of belonging to an international community of appreciation and concern for universally significant properties that embody a world of outstanding examples of cultural diversity and natural wealth. The States Parties to the Convention, by joining hands to protect and cherish the world’s natural and cultural heritage, express a shared commitment to preserving our legacy for future generations.
The prestige that comes from being a State Party to the Convention and having sites inscribed on the World Heritage List often serves as a catalyst to raising awareness for heritage preservation.
Particularly in the case of developing countries, a key benefit of ratification is access to the World Heritage Fund.
Emergency assistance may also be made available for urgent action to repair damage caused by human-made or natural disasters. Today, the World Heritage concept is so well understood that sites on the List are a magnet for international cooperation and may thus receive financial assistance for heritage conservation projects from a variety of sources.
Also the Management Plan, a requisite for inscription on the World Heritage List, is a useful instrument as it sets out adequate preservation measures, optimizes the use of available human and financial resources and monitoring procedures.
Finally, the inscription of a site on the World Heritage List brings an increase in public awareness of the site and of its outstanding values, thus also increasing the tourist activities at the site. When these are well planned and organized respecting sustainable tourism principles, they can bring important funds to the site and to the local economy.
The Convention establishes the kind of natural or cultural sites which can be considered for inscription on the World Heritage List and sets out the duties of States Parties in identifying potential sites and their role in protecting and preserving them.
States Parties are encouraged to integrate the protection of the cultural and natural heritage into planning programmes, set up staff and services at their sites, undertake scientific and technical conservation research.
The Convention stipulates the obligation of States Parties to report regularly to the World Heritage Committee on the state of conservation of their World Heritage properties. It also encourages States Parties to strengthen the appreciation of the public for World Heritage properties and to enhanced their protection through educational and information programmes. It establishes also how the World Heritage Fund is to be used and managed and the conditions for receiving international financial assistance.
The Convention also describes the function of the World Heritage Committee, how its members are elected and their terms of office, and lists the professional advisory boards. The World Heritage Committee, which meets once a year, comprises representatives from 21 of the States Parties elected by the General Assembly for terms of up to six years. The Committee is responsible for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention, defines the use of the World Heritage Fund and allocates financial assistance upon requests from States Parties. It takes the final decision on a site’s inscription on the World Heritage List; it can also defer its decision and request States Parties to provide further information on their sites.
The Committee examines reports on the state of conservation of inscribed sites and asks States Parties to take action when sites are not being adequately managed. It also decides on the inscription or deletion of sites on the List of World Heritage in Danger and can also decide to cancel a site from the World Heritage List.
These are the States who have ratified the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. They are responsible for preserving the values of World Heritage properties and for periodical reporting on their state of conservation.
The General Assembly
The General Assembly includes all States Parties to the Convention. It meets once every two years during the ordinary session of the UNESCO General Conference to elect the members of the World Heritage Committee, to examine the statement of accounts of the World Heritage Fund and to decide on major policy statements.
The World Heritage Committee
This is the intergovernmental committee responsible for the Convention’s implementation. It is assisted by a secretariat (the World Heritage Centre) who executes its decisions and is supported by professional advisory bodies.
The UNESCO World Heritage Centre
Established in 1992, the World Heritage Centre is the focal point and coordinator within UNESCO for all matters related to World Heritage. It acts as the Secretariat of the World Heritage Committee, organizes the meetings of the General Assembly and of the Committee, elaborates and proposes general policy and implements the Committee’s decisions in cooperation with the States Parties and the advisory bodies.
In cooperation with the States Parties and the Advisory Bodies, the Centre is also responsible for:
- the receipt, registration, checking the completeness, archiving and transmission to the relevant Advisory Bodies of nominations to the World Heritage List;
- the organization and co-ordination of the monitoring of World heritage properties;
- the co-ordination of international assistance and implementation of the Committee’s programmes and projects;
- the promotion of World Heritage and the Convention through the dissemination of information to the general public.
The Advisory Bodies of the World Heritage Committee are l’ICCROM (International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property), l’ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) e l’IUCN (World Conservation Union).
The main activities of these advisory bodies include:
- provide support to the World Heritage Centre in the preparation of documentation for the Committee;
- monitor the state of conservation of World Heritage properties and examine requests for international assistance;
- evaluate nominations for inscription on the World heritage List and submit reports to the Committee (ICOMOS and UICN);
- provide expert consultancy on the conservation of cultural properties and on educational issues (ICCROM).
Cultural and Natural Heritage
The Convention (Articles 1 and 2) establishes the kind of natural or cultural sites which can be considered for inscription on the World Heritage List:
- monuments architectural works, works of monumental sculpture and painting, elements or structures of an archaeological nature, inscriptions, cave dwellings and combinations of features, which are of outstanding universal value from the point of view of history, art or science;
- groups of buildings: groups of separate or connected buildings which, because of their architecture, their homogeneity or their place in the landscape, are of outstanding universal value from the point of view of history, art or science;
- sites: works of man or the combined works of nature and man, and areas including archaeological sites which are of outstanding universal value from the historical, aesthetic, ethnological or anthropological point of view.
- natural features consisting of physical and biological formations or groups of such formations, which are of outstanding universal value from the aesthetic or scientific point of view;
- geological and physiographical formations and precisely delineated areas which constitute the habitat of threatened species of animals and plants of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation;
- natural sites or precisely delineated natural areas of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science, conservation or natural beauty.
Furthermore, the Operational guidelines for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention identify two further areas:
- mixed heritage (cultural and natural): properties that in all or in part correspond to both cultural and natural heritage definitions;
- cultural landscapes: cultural properties that represent “the combined work of nature and man” as defined in Article 1 of the Convention, and which illustrate the evolution of a society and its establishment over time under the influence of constraints and / or opportunities presented, inside and outside, by the natural environment and by cultural, economic and social incentives.
Operational guidelines for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention constitute the fundamental instrument for the implementation of the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.
First established in 1977, the Guidelines are periodically revised to reflect the decisions of the World Heritage Committee.
The Guidelines set forth the criteria and the procedures for the inscription of properties on the World Heritage List; for the assessment of the state of conservation of inscribed properties; for the International Assistance under the World Heritage Fund; establish the criteria for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger and provide other information and instructions .