The Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (the World Heritage Convention) was adopted by the UNESCO General Conference at its 17th session in Paris on 16 November 1972. The Convention came into force in 1975 and since then the number of countries that have become States Parties to the Convention has increased to 183 (as at 2006). The Convention is considered the most successful global instrument for the protection of cultural and natural heritage.
The World Heritage Convention aims to promote cooperation among nations to protect heritage from around the world that is of such outstanding universal value that its conservation is important for current and future generations. It is intended that, unlike the seven wonders of the ancient world, properties on the World Heritage List will be conserved for all time. States Parties to the Convention commit themselves to ensure the identification, protection, conservation, and presentation of World Heritage properties. States recognise that the identification and safeguarding of heritage located in their territory is primarily their responsibility. They agree to do all they can, using their own resources and, at times with international assistance, to protect their World Heritage properties. They agree, amongst other things, to as far as possible:
- adopt a general policy which aims to give the cultural and natural heritage a function in the life of the community and to integrate the protection of that heritage into comprehensive planning programs
- undertake appropriate legal, scientific, technical, administrative and financial measures necessary for the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and rehabilitation of this heritage
- refrain from any deliberate measures which might damage, directly or indirectly, the cultural and natural heritage of other Parties to the Convention, and to help other Parties in the identification and protection of their properties.
World Heritage Committee
The Convention is administered by a World Heritage Committee , which consists of 21 members elected from those States that are Parties to the Convention. Elections are held every two years.
The Committee's main tasks are to:
- decide on the inscription of new properties on the World Heritage List
- discuss all matters relating to the implementation of the Convention
- consider requests for international assistance
- ensure States meet their obligations under the Convention to protect World Heritage properties
- administer the World Heritage Fund.
The Committee is supported by a small secretariat, the World Heritage Centre, which is a part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) based in Paris, France.
World Heritage List
The Convention establishes a list of properties that have outstanding universal value and is called the World Heritage List. These properties are part of the cultural and natural heritage of States that are Parties to the Convention.
At December 2006 there were 830 properties that the World Heritage Committee had included in the World Heritage List . The list included 644 cultural properties, 162 natural properties and 24 properties that met both cultural and natural criteria in 138 State Parties. Many World Heritage sites in other parts of the world are well known, such as, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Grand Canyon of the United States, the Taj Mahal of India, Westminster Abbey in the United Kingdom, Sagarmatha National Park (containing Mount Everest) in Nepal and the Great Wall of China.
World Heritage in Danger
The World Heritage Committee prepares and publishes a List of World Heritage in Danger that includes World Heritage properties threatened by serious and specific dangers, such as development projects, the outbreak or threat of armed conflict, or natural disasters. The Convention provides for State Party consent prior to any 'in danger' listing, however, in cases where a site is threatened and State Party government processes have broken down (where there is no effective government) the Committee may reach a decision on its own. Each time that the Committee makes a new entry on the List of World Heritage in Danger, it is required to publicise the entry immediately.
World Heritage Fund
A trust fund, the World Heritage Fund for the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage of Outstanding Universal Value, is established under the Convention. The Fund is financed by contributions from States Parties and contributions from private organisations and individuals.
The Fund is used to respond to requests by States Parties for assistance in support of their efforts to protect their sites on the World Heritage List, as well as to meet urgent conservation needs of properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
States Parties can request international assistance from the Fund for studies, provision of experts and technicians, training of staff and specialists, and the supply of equipment. They can also apply for long-term loans and, in special cases, non-repayable grants.
World Heritage site of the Asia-Pacific Region — Te Wahipounamu, New Zealand
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