Both the Royal Government of Cambodia and the private sector are buzzing with activity in preparation to welcome the estimated 1,400 delegates to the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee, which Cambodia hosts this year from this Sunday, June 16, to Thursday, June 27.
The Royal Government’s spokesman for the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee, Ek Tha, said the number of confirmed delegates had increased, thus increasing the importance of Cambodia’s hosting role.
Cambodia already has two inscribed World Heritage Sites; Angkor, which was inscribed in 1992, and Preah Vihear, which was inscribed in 2008.
For intangible heritage, the Royal Ballet of Cambodia was inscribed on the UNESCO list in 2003. The Khmer shadow theatre known as Sbek Thom was proclaimed a UNESCO masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity on November 25, 2005.
The grounds of Toul Sleng where an estimated 14,000 people were tortured and later murdered was inscribed in 2009 in the UNESCO register of World Heritage. The Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve is a unique ecological phenomenon surrounding the Tonle Sap, which is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, was nominated in 1997 as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Cambodia, as host this year to the delegates of the World Heritage Committee, is understood not to be nominating any properties this year for inscription. A tentative list of nine properties were submitted in 1992 including the Banteay Chmar temple, the Banteay Prei Nokor temple complex, the Beng Mealea temple, the Prah Khan temple at Kompong Svay, the Sambor Prei Kuk temple complex, the Koh Ker temple complex , the Angkor Borei and Phnom Da sites, the Oudong complex and the Kulen site.
Government spokesman for the WHC delegation Ek Tha said the WHC has 190 member countries, of which at least 90 countries had already confirmed to attend the meetings that last until June 27.
“We will also have international youths who are coming from 14 countries,” said Ek Tha.
“Preah Vihear temple was listed as a World Heritage site in Canada in 2008 after Cambodia submitted a stack of documents about master plan, management and so on,” he said. “Potential sites have to go through the assessment by the three mechanisms such as experts from ICCROM, which deals with tangible monuments, ICOMOS, which deals with sites and monuments, and ICUN which deals with nature before hand, whether or not the site is inscribed or listed,” he said.
“Also, the session will review the current situation on the ground for other UN-listed temples as well as take action on how to improve the protection and preservation of UN-listed historic sites for those on endangered list,” he said.
As of September 2012, 190 countries have ratified the 1972 International Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. The total includes 962 sites of which 745 are cultural sites, 188 are natural sites and 29 mixed sites.
The current composition of the World Heritage Committee is as follows: Algeria, Cambodia, Colombia, Estonia, Ethiopia, France, Germany, India, Iraq, Japan, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Qatar, Russian Federation, Senegal, Serbia, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.
Spokesman Ek Tha also took time to answer a few questions:
Did Cambodia receive financial support to help hold this meeting of the World Heritage Committee?
No. We did not receive any financial support. The Royal Government of Cambodia spends its own money for this event. The World Heritage Center and UNESCO of course has provided secretariat and technical support.
How can the media and the public participate in these events?
We have a huge media centre for national and international journalists who cover the event. Internet connections will be provided and on the top of that you can follow the proceedings live on the internet. Local television stations including the government-funded TVK encouraged to broadcast of the event live. We will do what we can to inform the public about the event.
Is this the first time Cambodia has had leading role for such a UN committee?
Yes, this is the first time. Cambodia was elected for this role during the 36th session of the World Heritage Committee in Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation, as Chairperson of the 37th session WHC meeting in Phnom Penh for 2013.
What does it mean for Cambodia to preside over this international committee?
This event sends a strong international signal that the Kingdom of Cambodia is more than just a peaceful nation that attracts tourists and investment, but is also playing a greater role at the global level by bringing together the cultural experts and policy makers to seek ways how to protect and preserve the cultural and natural heritage worldwide.
What does Cambodia hope to accomplish during the committee meeting?
With Cambodia’s role as chair of the 37th Session of the WHC for this year, the session expects to inscribe an unknown number of sites with voting from the 21 members of the WHC. The meeting will attract at least 1,000 representatives from countries who have signed the convention.
How does the Cambodian government feel about hosting delegates from so many countries?
We are thrilled to host this event to show the world that Cambodia is capable in handling of hosting big number of delegates from different parts of the world. We are ready to fly our flag to welcome the delegations from different corners of the world. This is a great moment for us to show that despite our turbulent past, our country is rapidly developing, safe, friendly and wonderful place to visit and spend time.