Also participating in the opening ceremony were: Mr Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr Georges Anastassopoulos, President of UNESCO’s General Conference and Professor Thijs Maarleveld, Chairperson of the ICOMOS** International Committee on Underwater Cultural Heritage.
The Director-General began his intervention by paying tribute to Mr Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, honoured guest at the meeting, recalling his long career and acknowledging the instrumental role he had played “in the evolution of international thinking about the links between culture and development” in his capacity as President of the World Commission on Culture and Development.
Thanking the Governments of the twenty-four Member States that have ratified UNESCO’s 2001 Convention so far, the Director-General expressed his hope that more Member States would ratify it in the near future. He recognized the fact that legislation regarding the sea is a very sensitive issue for many States, however, “recent months have indicated growing awareness among Member States – including many maritime powers – of the significance of the 2001 Convention”, he added.
“This is a truly historic moment for UNESCO and for all those who are dedicated to safeguarding the world’s cultural heritage. In the broad context of UNESCO’s mandate to set international standards, the 2001 Convention marks a milestone. … With it, the international community now possesses a comprehensive arsenal of normative instruments covering key aspects of our shared heritage, ranging from the built and natural heritage to intangible and contemporary expressions, as well as protection against illicit trafficking and armed conflict” stated the Director-General. “More specifically”, he continued, “the 2001 Convention offers protection for an often overlooked aspect of the world’s cultural legacy, its underwater heritage”.
“There is no doubt that urgent action is required. Experts tell us that the world’s seas contain over 3 million undiscovered shipwrecks, and the remains of countless submerged ancient buildings and sites, many of which contain treasures of great cultural – and financial – significance. … The Convention takes a very practical and professional approach to many issues that it touches or regulates. I am therefore confident that it will soon prove to be a very useful tool in the field. You have the power – and the responsibility – to make State cooperation, mutual assistance and the exchange of knowledge foreseen under the Convention a reality”, concluded Mr Matsuura.
In his message, Mr Perez de Cuéllar recalled the long process that had led to the development by the United Nations of the Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which was finally adopted at Montego Bay in 1982 and entered into force in 1994. He recalled that the question of the protection of the underwater heritage was left to another instrument at that time. Today, UNCLOS counts 157 States Parties, and Mr Perez de Cuéllar expressed his confidence that UNESCO’s Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage would meet the same success.
For his part, the President of UNESCO’s General Conference said this Convention represents an important achievement for the Organization. "In elaborating this clearly unique instrument, UNESCO demonstrated its capacity to play its role as standard-setter and facilitator of international cooperation in an area that is in need of regulation”. Mr Anastassopoulos went on to express his hope that the work undertaken within the framework of the 2001 Convention will allow for the solution of still unresolved questions linked to the implementation of some of the Convention’s provisions.
Finally, Professor Thijs Maarleveld, underlined the work already accomplished by the ICOMOS International Committee on Underwater Cultural Heritage, and offered all the support of ICOMOS and its networks of experts for the implementation of the new UNESCO Convention.