United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

The Director-General addresses the 33rd Session of the World Heritage Committee in Seville, Spain

On 22 June 2009, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koďchiro Matsuura, travelled to Seville to address the World Heritage Committee at the opening of its 33rd session, chaired by Spain’s Ambassador to UNESCO, María Jesús San Segundo.

He was joined at the opening ceremony by Ambassadors George Anastassopoulos, President of the UNESCO General Conference and Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yaď, Chairman of its Executive Board, as well as by Ángeles González-Sinde Reig, Spain’s Minister of Culture, José Antonio Grińán, President of the Autonomous Region of Andalusia, and Alfredo Sánchez Monteseirín, the Mayor of Seville.

Recalling that he had been closely involved in the work of the Committee for 12 years, as Japan’s representative in 1997, as Chairperson in 1998, and as Director-General since 1999, Mr Matsuura reflected on the achievements of the Committee, States Parties and UNESCO’s work in response to the ever increasing demands of implementing the World Heritage Convention over that time and gave his frank assessment of the big challenges that remain as it approaches its 40th anniversary in 2012.

Noting that progress had been made in the numbers of ratifications of the Convention – which now counts 186 States Parties – and in the range of categories of cultural heritage represented on the World Heritage List, the Director-General observed that “more efforts are needed to ensure that all States Parties are represented on the List [and that] more also needs to be done to address persistent geographical imbalances and the ratio of natural to cultural properties.”

Mr Matsuura underlined regional capacity building and alternative financing mechanisms as a way to support the implementation of the World Heritage Convention highlighting the UNESCO category 2 centres dedicated to World Heritage and the African World Heritage Fund as well as the nascent Pacific World Heritage Fund as good examples. The Director-General further recalled having identified funding and resources for World Heritage sites in developing countries as a major challenge some 10 years ago. “Since then, we have developed a strategy for using the limited resources of the World Heritage Fund more strategically. We have also benefited from the generosity of a number of States Parties who have supported that work.”

Private companies and foundations had increasingly also played an important role and Mr Matsuura paid warm tribute to the United Nations Foundation for its support for UNESCO’s work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other high biodiversity sites around the world, as well as its more recent role as a key partner of the World Heritage sustainable tourism programme. “Indeed, the Committee recognized that such partnerships would be indispensable in promoting the five strategic objectives developed since the 30th anniversary of the Convention in 2002: credibility, conservation, capacity building, communication and communities. I am sure that even in this time of financial crisis, partners will continue to cooperate in implementing the Convention,” said the Director-General.

Continuing, Mr Matsuura said that the success of the World Heritage Convention had provided the impetus for expanding UNESCO’s normative work in the field of culture: “When I took office in 1999, the World Heritage Convention was the flagship convention in the protection and promotion of culture and cultural heritage. But its clear focus on tangible cultural and natural heritage meant that other areas were neglected in legal terms. Over the past ten years we have developed three more conventions….. With the addition of these, UNESCO has established a comprehensive set of legal tools for protecting all aspects of humanity’s cultural diversity, underpinned by the mutually reinforcing and complementary conventions of 1972, 2003 and 2005 on World Heritage, Intangible Cultural Heritage and the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. The challenge now is to establish harmonious working relationships between them.”

The Director-General called for “bold steps to ensure the better and appropriate geographical and thematic balance called for by the Global Strategy.” In this regard, he expressed his hope that the Committee would “continue to examine the technical evaluations provided by the Advisory Bodies with the utmost rigour, to be sure that the proposed site really does have the outstanding universal value and the credible management system that the Convention requires.”

“No doubt there are many different views represented here today, but what we all share is a commitment to this Convention, and its importance as a means of safeguarding the world’s heritage for our children, our grandchildren and generations to come. I myself have devoted much of my energies over the last ten years to this task, and in extending UNESCO’s efforts to the protection and celebration of other forms of cultural diversity. I will leave UNESCO in November fully confident that you, in this Committee, working with the Secretariat, will tackle the challenges before you with wisdom and commitment, and that the protection of world heritage is safe in your hands”, the Director-General concluded.

The Director-General’s visit to Spain also provided the opportunity for bilateral talks with the Minister of Culture, during which he thanked Spain for its active support for UNESCO’s culture programme, both through its engagement in the development and implementation of UNESCO’s normative instruments in this field and its generous financial support in the form of the Spanish Funds in Trust and the UNDP-Spain Millennium Development Goals Achievement Fund.

A meeting with the President of the Autonomous Region of Andalusia José Antonio Grińán was the occasion to discuss a wide range of issues including the Memorandum of Understanding being developed between UNESCO and the autonomous region of Andalusia.

The Director-General also held bilateral meetings with the Minister of Culture, Tourism and Communication of Burkina Faso, the Vice Prime Minister of Cambodia, the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of Thailand, the Vice Chair of the Hanoi City People’s Committee, Viet Nam and the Vice-President of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) of the Russian Federation.

Related links 

Author(s): Office of the Spokesperson - Source: Flash Info N° 124-2009 -  Publication Date: 25-06-2009

© UNESCO 1995-2010 - ID: 45997