Frequently asked questions about the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee

Frequently asked questions about the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee

8 session heritage

What is World Heritage?
World Heritage is the designation for places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity and as such, have been inscribed on the World Heritage List to be protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy. Places as diverse and unique as the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador, the Taj Mahal in India, the Grand Canyon in the USA, the Acropolis in Greece or Angkor in Cambodia are examples of the 962 natural and cultural places inscribed on the World Heritage List to date.

What does it mean for a property to be inscribed on the list?
There are many positive impacts: National and potential World Heritage listing provides national and international recognition for the region. Listing can also cultivate local and national pride and motivation to acknowledge and protect the values.

 Once a country signs the convention, and has properties (previously termed “sites”) inscribed on the World Heritage List, the resulting prestige often helps raise awareness among citizens and governments for heritage preservation. Greater awareness leads to a general rise in the level of the protection and conservation given to heritage properties. A country may also receive financial assistance and expert advice from the World Heritage Committee to support activities for the preservation of its properties.

What is the 1972 Convention?
The Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage is an international agreement that was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on 16 November 1972 and entered into force on 17 December 1975.

What does the convention stipulate?
The convention defines the kind of natural or cultural properties which can be considered for inscription on the World Heritage List.

The convention sets out the duties of States Parties in identifying potential properties and their role in protecting and preserving them. By signing the convention, each country pledges to conserve not only the World Heritage properties situated on its territory, but also to protect its national heritage. The States Parties are encouraged to integrate the protection of the cultural and natural heritage into regional planning programs, set up staff and services at their properties, undertake scientific and technical conservation research and adopt measures which give this heritage a function in the day-to-day life of the community.

What are the benefits of ratification?
The overarching benefit of ratifying the World Heritage Convention is that of belonging to an international community of appreciation and concern for universally significant properties that embody a world of outstanding examples of cultural diversity and natural wealth. The States Parties to the Convention, by joining hands to protect and cherish the world’s natural and cultural heritage, express a shared commitment to preserving our legacy for future generations.

A key benefit of ratification, particularly for developing countries, is access to the World Heritage Fund. Annually, about US$4 million is made available to assist States Parties in identifying, preserving and promoting World Heritage properties. Emergency assistance may also be made available for urgent action to repair damage caused by human-made or natural disasters. In the case of properties included on the List of World Heritage in Danger, the attention and the funds of both the national and the international community are focused on the conservation needs of these particularly threatened properties.

What are States Parties?
States Parties are countries which have adhered to the World Heritage Convention. They thereby agree to identify and nominate properties on their national territory to be considered for inscription on the World Heritage List.

State Parties nominate a property, it gives details of how a property is protected and provides a management plan for its upkeep. States Parties are obliged by the Convention to protect the World Heritage values of the properties inscribed and to report periodically on their condition.

What are the legal implications of the Convention?
The UNESCO World Heritage Convention is a treaty that has become, over the past 30 years, the foremost international legal tool in support of the conservation of the world’s cultural and natural heritage. Today, 187 countries (called States Parties) have ratified the Convention, making it an almost universally accepted set of principles and framework of action.

What about Intangible and Documentary Heritage?
Alongside World Heritage, UNESCO recognises two other forms of heritage, namely intangible and documentary heritage.
Intangible Heritage is recognised and managed under the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage;
Documentary Heritage is recognised and managed under the Memory of the World Programme.
Cambodia is active in all three of UNESCO’s flagship heritage programs.

What is the General Assembly of States Parties to the Convention?
The General Assembly includes all States Parties to the Convention. It meets once every two years during the ordinary session of the General Conference of UNESCO.
Assembly of States Parties is to:

  • elect the World Heritage Committee
  • examine the statement of accounts of the World Heritage Fund and
  • decide on major policy issues.

The 19th session of the General Assembly will take place at UNESCO Headquarters during the 37th session of the General Conference of UNESCO i 2013. During the 19th session of the General Assembly in 2013, 12 seats of the World Heritage Committee will have to be filled.

What is the role of the World Heritage Committee?
The Committee is responsible for:

  • the implementation of the World Heritage Convention,
  • defines the use of the World Heritage Fund and
  • allocates financial assistance upon requests from States Parties.
  • It has the final say on whether a property is inscribed on the World Heritage List.

It examines reports on the state of conservation of inscribed properties and asks States Parties to take action when properties are not being properly managed. It also decides on the inscription or deletion of properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

How are the World Heritage Committee Members elected?
Elections to replace outgoing Committee members take place during the General Assembly of States Parties, meeting once every two years during the General Conference of UNESCO According to the World Heritage Convention, a Committee member’s term of office is for six years, but most States Parties choose voluntarily to be Members of the Committee for only four years, in order to give other States Parties an opportunity to be on the Committee.  All Members electedduring the two last GeneralAssemblies (2009 and 2011) have voluntarily decided toreduce their period of term of office from six to four years.

When can a current member stand again for re-election to the Committee?
Members of the World Heritage Committee may stand again for election after a gap of 4 years after the expiry of their mandate.

Is there a geographical distribution of Committee members (i.e. quotas)?
There are no quotas. However, States Parties, as far as possible, should try to ensure an “equitable representation of the different regions and cultures of the world”.

In addition, one seat is reserved for a State Party with no properties inscribed on the List.

Which members are leaving in 2013 and 2015?
2013: Cambodia, Estonia, Ethiopia, France, Mali, Iraq, Mexico, Russian Federation, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, United Arab Emirates.

2015: Algeria, Colombia, Germany, India, Japan, Malaysia, Qatar, Senegal, Serbia

How often does the World Heritage Committee meet?
The Committee shall meet at least once per year in ordinary session. The Committee can also meet in extraordinary session at the request of at least two-thirds of the States members.

How is the date and place of the Committee session determined?
The Committee shall determine at each session, in consultation with the Director-General, the date and the place of the next session. The date and/or place may be modified, if necessary, by the Bureau, in consultation with the Director-General. Any State member of the Committee may invite the Committee to hold a session in its territory.

How is the Bureau elected?
The Committee, at the end of each ordinary session, shall elect, from amongst those members whose term continues through the next ordinary session, a Chairperson, five Vice-Chairpersons and a Rapporteur who shall remain in office until the end of that session. The Chairperson, the Vice-Chairpersons and the Rapporteur shall be eligible for immediate re-election for a second term of office.

What is the composition of the Bureau of the 37th WHC Session?
H.E. Mr. SOK An (Cambodia), Five Vice-Chairpersons: Algeria

Senegal (African Group – Group V (a) Columbia (Latin America and the Caribbean Group – Group III) Switzerland (Europe and North

America Group – Group I) and  Thailand     (Asia and the Pacific Group – Group IV) and Rapporteur : Ms Jasna ZRNOVIC (Serbia)


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