Director-General opens 17th General Assembly of States Parties to the 1972 World Heritage Convention

On 23 October 2009, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, opened the 17th session of the General Assembly of States Parties to the 1972 World Heritage Convention at the Organization’s Headquarters.

In a speech looking back over his 12 years of close involvement with the Convention, which had begun with his term as Chairman of the World Heritage Committee from 1998-1999, Mr Matsuura stated that, “the Convention and its Lists [are] extremely valuable tools in UNESCO’s work to safeguard the world’s precious cultural and biodiversity. Today, with 890 properties in 148 States Parties on the prestigious World Heritage List, the Convention is universally renowned as the pre-eminent international tool for protecting tangible cultural and natural heritage.”

Noting that, “Over the past decade, a more rigorous approach to monitoring the State of Conservation of World Heritage properties, an enlarged circle of non governmental partners, more strategic use of the limited resources of the World Heritage Fund, and the growing network of Category 2 Centres, have contributed to our collective efforts to identify and protect World Heritage...”, the Director-General observed that “there is, inevitably, more to be done.”

The approach of the fortieth anniversary of the Convention in 2012 gave heightened significance to perennial question about the representativeness, balance and credibility of the World Heritage List. Observing that while the notion of “outstanding universal value” (OUV) underpinning inscription “may mean that the List can never be fully representative of the astounding variety of cultural and natural heritage on our planet”, Mr Matsuura encouraged the international community to do its utmost to achieve this. In this regard, the inclusion of more cultural landscapes, prehistoric sites, modern heritage and industrial properties in recent years was a welcome contribution to those efforts. Equally, the decision of the World Heritage Committee at its 33rd session in Seville to remove the Dresden Elbe Valley from the World Heritage List should be understood as a decisive reaffirmation of the credibility of the List. In taking its decision, the World Heritage Committee had underscored that inscription on the List entailed an on-going commitment of the part of countries to uphold the OUV of the property.

Continuing, the Director-General said that “As one of the main pillars of the edifice, it is my hope that your reflections of the future of this Convention will show the path that this major instrument should take in order to better interact with its sister conventions, in particular with those of 1954, 2003 and 2005, as well as with other conventions and programmes in the field of biodiversity.”

In conclusion, Mr Matsuura explained that his work to expand UNESCO’s legal tools to cover all aspects of cultural diversity had been his conviction that “the values of peace, tolerance and respect championed by UNESCO’s Constitution should be placed at the heart of its normative arsenal.” It was this conviction that had taken him from the protection of World Heritage to that of underwater cultural heritage, and then to traditional and living cultural expressions. He hoped “that this conviction would animate the actions of the international community for a long time to come.

Following his address, the out-going President of the 16th session of the General Assembly of States Parties*, Her Excellency Madam Aziza Bennani, Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of the Kingdom of Morocco to UNESCO, took the floor to thank the Director-General for his devoted service to the Convention. Highlighting in particular Mr Matsuura’s focus on credibility, sustainability and his strengthening of UNESCO’s normative arsenal in culture and cultural heritage, she said he had “infected the world with his passion for culture”.


* During the opening session, Mr Dawson Munjeri of Zimbabwe and Ms Dagnija Baltina of Latvia were elected as President and Rapporteur respectively for the 17th General Assembly of States Parties. Malaysia and Argentina were elected as Vice-Presidents.

  • Auteur(s):La Porte-parole
  • Source:Flash Info N° 214-2009
  • 26-10-2009
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