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Nurturing the democratic debate.  
World Heritage Committee gives new impetus to protection of endangered sites

27-06-2002 10:00 pm Budapest – UNESCO's World Heritage Committee today adopted the Budapest Declaration, marking the 30th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention (1972) and recognizing the need "to ensure that (the Convention) applies to heritage in all its diversity"and the necessity for "effective conservation" of World Heritage properties. During the meeting, which began on Monday under the chairmanship of Tomas Fejerdy (Hungary), the Committee added nine new sites to the World Heritage List, and two to the List of World Heritage in Danger, including the first ever site in Afghanistan.

In the Budapest Declaration, the Committee encourages "countries that have not yet joined the Convention to do so at the earliest opportunity, as well as with other related international heritage protection instruments." To date, 172 of UNESCO's 188 Member States have ratified the Convention. The Declaration also urges all interested parties to "strengthen the credibility of the World Heritage List, as a representative and geographically balanced testimony of cultural and natural properties of outstanding universal value."

As UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura pointed out to the Committee today, it is the international community's responsibility to "ensure that the World Heritage List is credible." The Afghan "tragedy" with the "destruction of Bamiyan", he added, "will weigh on our conscience as the world's moral authority and guardian of heritage. This is all the more reason that the decision of the Committee at this session to extend its concern to protect the heritage in the Palestinian Territories is so important."

On June 26, the Committee adopted a decision concerning the protection of cultural heritage in the Palestinian Territories. Deploring the "destruction and damage caused" to this heritage, the decision invites the UNESCO Director-General, in consultation with the Committee's chairman, to assist "with the task of establishing an inventory" of this heritage and to assess the "state of conservation and the measures for its preservation and rehabilitation." The Committee "further decides to provide financial support for the implementation of this task" and calls on all parties concerned to cooperate with the Director-General.

Mr Matsuura equally insisted on the "new challenges" to be faced in order to guarantee the credibility of the World Heritage List in this International Year of Cultural Heritage. Congratulating the almost universal application of the Convention, he called on the Committee to ensure a "balanced" representation of the different geo-cultural regions of the planet. Today, some 50 states still don't have any site on the List. And of the 730 sites on the List, more than half are located in Europe and North America.

The Director-General also encouraged the Committee to make more use of the mechanisms provided in the Convention to better protect endangered sites, most notably through the inclusion of such places on the List of World Heritage in Danger, or their withdrawal from the World Heritage List. "After all, some sites have been on the List of World Heritage in Danger for decades without receiving the special attention they deserve," he said.

Mr Matsuura also stressed the need for UNESCO to work in concert with a wider range of partners to mobilize the means required to protect heritage more efficiently.He pointed to the cooperation agreements between UNESCO and several developed countries (Italy, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Australia) as an example, along with the closer working relations established with financial institutions (such as the World Bank and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation) and new partnerships with the private sector and non governmental organizations.

Yesterday, the Committee added nine new sites to the World Heritage List: the Minaret and Archaeological Remains of Jam (Afghanistan), the Upper Middle Rhine Valley and the Historic Centres of Stralsund and Wismar (Germany), the Saint Catherine Area (Egypt), the Tokaji Wine Region Cultural Landscape (Hungary), the Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodhgaya (India), the Late Baroque Towns of the Val di Noto, in Sicily (Italy), the Ancient Maya City of Calakmul, in Campeche (Mexico) and the Historic Inner City of Paramaribo (Suriname). It also extended two sites already on the List: Budapest, the Banks of the Danube and the Buda Castle Quarter (Hungary), and the Zone of the Cocos Island National Park (Costa Rica).

The Afghan site of Jam (see press release no. 41) was added to the List of World Heritage in Danger at the same time, as it is facing a number of threats including massive looting. The Committee also added the archaeological site of Tipasa in Algeria to the endangered list today, after taking into account the deterioration of the ruins caused by the lack of an efficient management plan, poor maintenance, vandalism and, especially, growing and uncontrolled urbanization within the site's perimeter.

With the List of World Heritage in Danger, which now includes 33 sites, UNESCO aims to draw the attention of the international community to the need to reinforce protection of sites threatened, for example, by mining, industrial pollution, pillage, war, badly managed tourism and poaching. Once on this List, these sites can benefit from more efficient national measures and increased international funding.

The Committee also noted with satisfaction the Romanian government's intention to reconsider the construction of a theme park, known as Dracula Park, in the immediate vicinity of the historic centre of Sighisoara, a fortified city on the World Heritage List since1999. According to the initial plans, the park would cover more ground than the medieval city and would be located only one and a half kilometres away. The Committee estimated that the park's development could have a negative cultural and environmental impact on the World Heritage site. It also recommended the urgent reinforcement of the historic city's conservation, especially the fortified walls and towers, which partly collapsed in 1998. The Committee also estimated that the State Party should avoid building the theme park near World Heritage sites in Transylvania.

The World Heritage Committee is responsible for ensuring the application of the 1972 Convention, which encourages international cooperation to safeguard humanity's shared heritage and toprotect those sites of "outstanding universal value". It is made up of representatives from 21 States, elected every six years by the General Assembly of States Parties to the Convention. The Convention currently protects 730 sites in 125 States Parties,including 563 cultural ones, 144 natural ones and 23 mixed sites.


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Source Press Release No.2002-42

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