UNESCO adopts international convention to safeguard intangible cultural heritageOral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage, the performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events, as well as knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe and traditional craftsmanship, now benefit from an international legal instrument to safeguard intangible heritage through cooperation.
The Member States attending the UNESCO General Conference at Headquarters (September 29 to October 17), today adopted by overwhelming majority the International Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage*, which completes the Organization’s existing legal instruments for the safeguarding of heritage.
“The safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage is of general interest to humanity,” states the Convention, which underlines its “invaluable role” in “bringing human beings closer together and ensuring exchange and understanding among them.” The convention requires a minimum of 30 States Parties to enter into force.
UNESCO’s Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura welcomed the Convention, which “expresses the urgent need for action in this domain,” he said. Mr Matsuura added, “Now I hope that many of you will ratify it, so that it may enter into force as quickly as possible.” According to the Director-General, “Such an outcome is a good example of the work of mediation and dialogue which our Organization is capable of achieving on the most complex and controversial subjects.”
Algerian judge Mohammed Bedjaoui, a former president of the International Court of Justice in The Hague who chaired the intergovernmental experts’ meetings to draft the text, added that “Despite all its complexity, this concept of intangible cultural heritage has affirmed and finally imposed itself on all of us as a key concept in understanding the cultural identity of peoples […]. Every word of this convention is a grateful tribute to the creators and artisans of this wonderful heritage, to the great and also to the humble and anonymous, to the authors and the guardians of the temple of the traditions and knowledge of peoples.”
The convention specifically provides for the drawing up of national inventories of cultural property to be protected, the establishment of an Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, composed of experts from future States Parties to the Convention, and the creation of two lists - a Representative List of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity and a List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.
To the first list will be added in due course the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, proclaimed in 2001 by the Director-General on the recommendation of an international jury presided by Spanish writer Juan Goytisolo.** This programme will continue until such time as the Convention enters into force.
The text further stresses that safeguarding intangible cultural heritage is a complex process involving many parties, starting with the communities and groups that bring it to life. According to the Convention, safeguarding activities will be financed by a fund, made up of contributions from States Parties, funds appropriated for this purpose by UNESCO’s General Conference, and contributions, gifts or bequests made by other States, organizations or individuals.
According to Mounir Bouchenaki, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture, the new Convention “will benefit from UNESCO’s 30 years of experience in the domain of tangible cultural heritage”, safeguarded by the 1972 Convention “which, when necessary, served as a model for the new instrument.”
The adoption of the new convention is the result of a long process of awareness raising, which intensified in recent years but began with the 1982 Mexico City Conference, where UNESCO’s Member States first evoked the concept of intangibility to refer to the body of humanity’s expressions of spirituality. In 1989, UNESCO adopted the Recommendation on the Safeguarding of Traditional Culture and Folklore, but the fact that it is not legally binding has limited its impact. The proclamation of the first Masterpieces in 2001 considerably stimulated interest in intangible cultural heritage and brought greater understanding of its essential role in the cultural identity of peoples. The second proclamation will take place November 7, 2003.
*The complete text of the Convention can be found at:
Given the recent adoption of this Convention by the 32nd Session of the General Conference, the text will be subject to linguistic adjustment in English, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Chinese.
** The 19 masterpieces are: The Garifuna Language, Dance and Music (Belize); The Oral Heritage of Gelede (Benin); The Oruro Carnival (Bolivia); The Kunqu Opera (China); The Gbofe of Afounkaha: the Music of the Transverse trumpets of the Tagbana Community (Côte d’Ivoire); The Cultural Space of the Brotherhood of the Holy Spirit of the Congos of Villa Mella (Dominican Republic); The Oral Heritage and Cultural Manifestations of the Zápara People (Ecuador-Peru); Georgian Polyphonic Singing (Georgia); The Cultural Space of Sosso-Bala in Nyagassola (Guinea); The Kutiyattam Sanskrit Theatre (India); Opera dei Pupi, Sicilian Puppet Theatre (Italy); The Nogaku Theatre (Japan); Cross Crafting and its Symbolism (Lithuania); The Cultural Space of Jemaa el-Fna Square (Morocco); Hudhud Chants of the Ifugao (Philippines); Royal Ancestral Rite and Ritual Music in Jongmyo Shrine (Republic of Korea); The Cultural Space and Oral Culture of the Semeiskie (Russian Federation); The Mystery Play of Elche (Spain); and The Cultural Space of the Boysun District (Uzbekistan).
B-Roll available from: Christine Carbonnel, tel: 33 (0)1 45 68 00 68
Photo © UNESCO: The Oral Heritage and Cultural Manifestations of the Zápara People -
Ecuador and Peru