|“From origins to maturity – the history of UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention”
The main tenet of the 1972 UNESCO Convention concerning the protection of the world cultural and natural heritage (1) (the World Heritage Convention) is international cooperation for conservation. In this regard, some of the Convention’s conceptual origins can be found in the work of the League of Nations and its International Institute of International Cooperation in the 1920s and 1930s and the promotion of the idea of a common heritage of humankind deserving of conservation through international cooperation (Titchen 1995: 12-34).
From 1948, further origins of the World Heritage Convention can be traced to UNESCO’s discussions concerning the establishment of an international fund to subsidize the preservation and restoration of monuments of “world-wide importance” and later of “universal value and interest” (Titchen 1995: 37-49).
Furthermore, in 1965 the idea of a ‘World Heritage Trust” “for the identification, establishment and management of the world’s superb natural and scenic areas and historic sites” emerged from discussion at the White House Conference on International Cooperation and was later put forward as official policy of the United States of America by President Nixon in 1971 (Batisse and Bolla 2005 and Titchen 1995: 52-53 and 61-62).
In the lead up to the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in June 1972 the emerging concept of World Heritage was included in separate draft conventions prepared by UNESCO (for cultural heritage), IUCN (2) (concerned mainly with the conservation of natural heritage) and the United States of America (embodying the idea of a World Heritage Trust for cultural and natural heritage) (Titchen 1995: 52-63). Following a Special Committee of Governmental Experts convened by UNESCO in April 1972, a single draft convention was developed and following further discussions and revisions was adopted by the seventeenth session of the UNESCO General Conference in November 1972 (Batisse and Bolla 2005 and Titchen 1995: 65-69).
Today the World Heritage Convention remains unique among international instruments in its attention to the conservation of both cultural and natural heritage(3). In addition to cultural and natural properties, the World Heritage List includes what are known as mixed cultural and natural properties – properties with both outstanding cultural and natural value (4).
Furthermore, since 1992, in recognizing that the Convention’s definition of cultural heritage includes “the combined works of nature and man”, the World Heritage Committee has inscribed more than thirty cultural landscapes of outstanding universal value on the World Heritage List where the interaction between people and the environment is recognized as outstanding (von Droste et al 1995, Fowler 2003 and UNESCO 2003).
In a further effort to give equal prominence to both the cultural and natural heritage through the implementation of the Convention, and to recognize outstanding links between people and the environment (see von Droste et al 1998), the World Heritage Committee has recently merged what were previously two sets of assessment criteria (one for cultural heritage and one for natural heritage) into one set of ten criteria (UNESCO 2 February 2005: paragraph 77).
In addition, the Committee has decided that all properties nominated for inclusion on the World Heritage List shall satisfy conditions of integrity (UNESCO 2 February 2005: paragraph 87). Conditions of integrity were only previously applied to the nomination of natural heritage properties. With these recent innovations, the uniqueness of the World Heritage Convention in its attention to the conservation of both cultural and natural heritage, and the outstanding interactions between people and the environment, have been further developed. It remains to be seen how these recent changes will impact the Convention’s role in protecting the full diversity of the world’s outstanding heritage, cultural and natural.
The other distinguishing feature of the World Heritage Convention is its focus on the protection of heritage of “outstanding universal value” (Titchen 1995 and Titchen 1996). However, whilst a definition of “outstanding universal value” has recently been included in the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention (5), the ongoing discussion of its meaning and application of this concept continues (see for example, UNESCO 15 June 2005). Central to this continuing discussion is the concern to maintain an appropriate threshold of value for the selection of World Heritage properties to uphold the credibility of the World Heritage List as a list of the world’s most outstanding heritage properties. Recently, Cameron has commented that:
“the interpretation of outstanding universal value for both cultural and natural sites will continue to shift towards a definition of “representative of the best”. It is too late to limit the List to the “best of the best”. This approach brings benefits to countries in areas of economic and sustainable development, as well as in national pride and cultural identity. … One can only hope that, in the context of “representative of the best”, the Advisory Bodies and the Committee manage to keep the bar high enough to retain the World Heritage cachet (Cameron 2005: 6-7).
There is also an equally important concern to ensure that the conservation afforded World Heritage properties is of the highest possible standards and that “protection and management of World Heritage properties should ensure that the outstanding universal value, the conditions of integrity and/or authenticity at the time of inscription are maintained or enhanced in the future” (UNESCO 2005: paragraph 96). For this reason, in a recent revision to the Operational Guidelines, the World Heritage Committee has decided that a Statement of Outstanding Universal Value(6)(agreed upon by the Committee at the time of a property’s inscription on the World Heritage List) shall be the basis for the future protection and management of the property.
This extremely important innovation, which mirrors trends in other areas of international conservation (7), could form the basis of a more systematic and rigorous examination of the state of conservation of World Heritage properties in future years. Ideally it could also lead to an overall improvement in the conservation of World Heritage properties around the world. It will also place new demands on the system of World Heritage conservation with a need for further work in developing, sharing and putting into practice principles and standards of management and protection befitting properties of “outstanding universal value”.
Batisse, Michel and Gerard Bolla 2005 The Invention of “World Heritage”. History Papers. Unesco action as seen by protagonists and witnesses. Paper 2. History Club. Association of Former Unesco Staff Members.
Cameron, Christina 2005 Evolution of the application of “outstanding universal value” for cultural and natural heritage in, Item 9 of the Provisional Agenda: Assessment of the conclusions and recommendations of the special meeting of experts (Kazan, Russian Federation, 6-9 April 2005) established by Decision 28 COM 13.1. INF.9B: Keynote speech by Ms Christina Cameron and presentations by the World Heritage Centre and Advisory Bodies. World Heritage Committee, 29th session, Durban, South Africa, 10-17 July 2005. WHC-05/29 COM/INF.9B.
Fowler, P.J. 2003 World Heritage Cultural Landscapes 1992-2002. World Heritage Papers 6. UNESCO World Heritage Centre, Paris, France.
Getty Conservation Institute 2001 Values and Site Management: New Case Studies in, Newsletter 16.2 (Summer 2001).
Titchen, Sarah M. 1995 On the construction of outstanding universal value. UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention (Convention concerning the protection of the world cultural and natural heritage, 1972) and the identification and assessment of cultural places for inclusion in the World Heritage List. Unpublished PhD thesis, the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.
Titchen, Sarah M. 1996 On the construction of ‘outstanding universal value’. Some comments on the implementation of the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention in, Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites, 1(4): 235-242.
UNESCO 1972 Convention concerning the protection of the world cultural and natural heritage. Adopted by the seventeenth session of the UNESCO General Conference.
UNESCO 2003 Cultural Landscapes: the Challenges of Conservation. World Heritage 2002 Shared Legacy, Common Responsibility Associated Workshops 11-12 November 2002, Ferrara – Italy. World Heritage Papers 7. UNESCO World Heritage Centre, Paris, France.
UNESCO 2 February 2005 Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention. Intergovernmental Committee for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. WHC. 05/2
UNESCO 15 June 2005 Item 9 of the Provisional Agenda: Assessment of the conclusions and recommendations of the special meeting of experts (Kazan, Russian Federation, 6-9 April 2005) established by Decision 28 COM 13.1. World Heritage Committee, 29th session, Durban, South Africa, 10-17 July 2005. WHC-05/29 COM/9.
von Droste, B., H. Plachter and M. Rössler (eds) 1995 Cultural Landscapes of Universal Value. Components of a Global Strategy. Jena, Fischer Verlag.
von Droste, B., M. Rössler and S. Titchen (eds) 1999 Linking Nature and Culture … Report of the Global Strategy Natural and Cultural Heritage Expert Meeting, 25 to 29 March 1998, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Paris/The Hague, UNESCO/Ministry for Foreign Affairs/Ministry of Education, Science and Culture.
28 October 2005_______________________________________________________
(1) As at 28 October 2005, the World Heritage Convention has 180 States Parties.
(2) Then known as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and now known as the World Conservation Union.
(3) Articles 1 and 2 of the World Heritage Convention set out the definitions of cultural and natural heritage respectively (UNESCO 1972).
(4) The World Heritage List currently includes 812 properties (628 cultural, 160 natural and 24 mixed cultural and natural properties) in 137 States Parties.
(5)“49. Outstanding universal value means cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity. As such, the permanent protection of this heritage is of the highest importance to the international community as a whole. The Committee defines the criteria for the inscription of properties on the World Heritage List” (UNESCO 2 February 2005: paragraph 49).
(6) “155. The Statement of Outstanding Universal Value should include a summary of the Committee's determination that the property has outstanding universal value, identifying the criteria under which the property was inscribed, including the assessments of the conditions of integrity or authenticity, and of the requirements for protection and management in force. The Statement of Outstanding Universal Value shall be the basis for the future protection and management of the property” (UNESCO 2 February 2005: paragraph 155).
(7) See for example the research on the values of heritage conducted by the Getty Conservation Institute. “… values-based management takes a holistic view of a site, and its objective is always the conservation and communication of those values that make the site significant. The management process begins with an examination of the values attributed to the site and is carried out through consultations with the stakeholders at the site. Once the values are identified – the aim of management becomes the conservation through policy and action” (Getty Conservation Institute 2001).