UNESCO adopts international convention to safeguard intangible cultural heritage (2003)
In Venice, UNESCO Celebrates 30 Years of Preserving World Heritage (2002)
Britain signs up to UNESCO convention to tackle illicit trade (2002)
United Nations Year for Cultural Heritage: Priority on Reconciliation and Development
Report of the 26th Session of the Bureau of the World Heritage Committee (2002)
The Director-General of UNESCO launches an appeal for the protection of historic, cultural and religious heritage in the Palestinian autonomous towns
UNESCO’s Culture Sector in Afghanistan
Report of the 25th Session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee


UNESCO adopts international convention to safeguard intangible cultural heritage


Oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage, the performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events, as well as knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe and traditional craftsmanship, now benefit from an international legal instrument to safeguard intangible heritage through cooperation.

The Member States attending the UNESCO General Conference at Headquarters (September 29 to October 17), today adopted by overwhelming majority the International Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage*, which completes the Organization’s existing legal instruments for the safeguarding of heritage.

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In Venice, UNESCO Celebrates 30 Years of Preserving World Heritage

Between 1978, when Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands became the first UNESCO World Heritage site, and this year, when the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan became the latest, the World Heritage List swelled to include a total of 730 sites of “exceptional universal value” spread across the world’s five


They include such famous places as the ancient city of Machu Picchu (Peru), the Auschwitz concentration camp (Poland), the Great Wall of China, the Medina of Essaouira (Morocco) and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

The Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which gave rise to the List, is 30 years old this year. It was adopted in Paris on November 16, 1972 and came into force in December 1975, when the minimum requirement of 20 countries had ratified it. Today, with 175 States-Parties, it is UNESCO’s most widely-backed legal instrument. To mark this anniversary, UNESCO will hold an international congress (“Shared Legacy, Common Responsibility”) in Venice from November 14 to 16, with the support of the Italian government and the city council.

The Congress will bring together more than 500 experts at the Cini Foundation, on the Venetian island of San Giorgio Maggiore, to analyse the successes and problems over 30 years of applying the

Convention; to work out ways of making the Convention and UNESCO’s efforts to protect World Heritage better known; and to strengthen future partnerships for World Heritage Conservation.

“The World Heritage Convention is a noble, vital force in the world, fostering peaceful coexistence and honouring our past in equal measure with our future,” says UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura.

The coveted “world heritage” label is much more than a prestige tag. It makes any site more popular, but also puts it under international protection and facilitates efforts by the country where it is located to raise international funding for its conservation.

The World Heritage Fund thus earmarks almost $4 million a year to help States Parties prepare the candidature of potential sites, to send technical and expert missions to sites and to provide emergency help for those hit by disaster.

Venice and its lagoon, which has been a World Heritage site since 1987, provides the ideal setting to assess the evolution of the Convention, whose importance is highlighted in the preamble which affirms that “the deterioration or disappearance of any item of cultural or natural heritage constitutes a harmful impoverishment of the heritage of all the nations of the world.”

(Story added 11 Nov 02)

Britain signs up to UNESCO convention to tackle illicit trade

The UK has formally signed up to an international agreement to protect cultural property, Arts Minister Baroness Blackstone announced on 1 August.

The 1970 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property gives members the right to recover stolen antiquities – primarily ancient and religious artefacts – which surface in the countries of fellow signatories.

Tessa Blackstone said: “By signing this agreement, we are sending a strong warning to those who do so much damage to the world’s cultural heritage that the UK is serious about joining the international effort to stamp out illicit trade in cultural objects. It will also help us claim back objects unlawfully removed from the UK.

“Acceding to the Convention was recommended by an advisory panel set up by DCMS to look at the extent of such trade. Britain has the second largest art market in the world with the market in antiquities making up a considerable part of it. The panel, led by Professor Norman Palmer, found that the market generally operates in an honourable way but did find evidence of illicit activity. I am therefore pleased that we have now implemented this recommendation.”

The report found that the British art market was worth around £4.5 billion in 1999, of which the antiquities market generated £15m. In 1999, some 132 cases were dealt with by London’s Interpol Unit and about 30 seizures of cultural goods were made by Customs and Excise.

Items stolen from the UK in the past include the Salisbury Hoard, a unique collection of more than 500 prehistoric artefacts that were stolen in 1985 by treasure hunters from a site near Salisbury. Two thirds of the hoard has been recovered by the British Museum but a third is still dispersed in the trade. Now, if such a hoard were stolen and taken to a country covered by the Convention, the UK could consider putting in a claim for its return.

Professor Palmer welcomed the news. He said: “I am delighted to learn that the UK has signed up to the UNESCO Convention. This commitment is in full accord with the recommendations of the Advisory Panel on Illicit Trade in its report to Ministers. In acceding to the Convention, the United Kingdom not only signals its commitment to the proper treatment of works of art and antiquities across the world, but joins 91 other nations in this endeavour. The UK’s participation will, I believe, be seen as a milestone in the progress of the Convention.”

Accession to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property was one of the principal recommendations of the Ministerial Advisory Panel on the Illicit Trade in Cultural Objects (ITAP) (December 2000). This is on the DCMS website (www.culture.gov.uk) along with the ITAP Progress Report for 2001. The Convention was laid before Parliament as a Command Paper with explanatory memorandum this Spring. An Instrument of the Convention has now been deposited with UNESCO in Paris.

The UNESCO Convention has as its purpose the prevention of illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property. It enables members to recover stolen antiquities which surface in the countries of the 91 fellow signatories. The Convention is not retroactive.

The Ministerial Advisory Panel was set up in the Spring of 1999 to advise the Government on, first, the extent of the illicit international trade in art and antiquities and the extent to which the UK was involved in it and, secondly, how most effectively the UK could play its part in preventing and prohibiting the illicit trade. The Panel had a distinguished membership drawn from the worlds of archaeology, museums and the trade.

Further info: http://www.culture.gov.uk

United Nations Year for Cultural Heritage: Priority on Reconciliation and Development

Paris, 2 April 2002 – From Bamyan to Jerusalem or Sarajevo, in the past few years cultural heritage has often been a military target or the flashpoint of political, ethnic and religious conflicts. But when peace returns, the rehabilitation and enhancement of these highly symbolic sites, as well as that of cultural spaces or forms of cultural expression belonging to the intangible heritage, can sometimes help to strengthen the process of national reconciliation and revive economic activity. Aware of these realities, UNESCO is pursuing its activities to protect cultural heritage and calls upon Member States to ratify the international conventions covering this area.

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Report of the 26th Session of the Bureau of the World Heritage Committee

(8-13 April 2002)

The report of the 26th session of the Bureau of the World Heritage Committee, held in early April 2002 at UNESCO Headquarters, is available online here

The Director-General of UNESCO launches an appeal for the protection of historic, cultural and religious heritage in the Palestinian autonomous towns

Paris, 11 April 2002

Alarmed by the threats to which historic, cultural and religious heritage is being exposed through the violent ongoing fighting in the main Palestinian autonomous towns, the Director-General has written to the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Shimon Peres, and to the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mr Yasser Arafat.

In his two letters, the Director-General appeals for every effort to be made to respect the sacred character of religious sites, not only those known as the Holy Places , but also all those built around them in this region, which was the cradle of civilizations and which is (&) the symbol of our shared humanity .

Recalling that these monuments – churches, monasteries, synagogues and mosques – were built by men and women of good faith, who were convinced of the possibility of a better life for all, Mr Matsuura urges that every possible measure be taken not to kill this age-old hope . He calls on the State of Israel, as a party to the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, to do everything within its power to ensure compliance with this Convention in all the Palestinian autonomous territories. This cultural heritage is the most striking symbol of the fruitful interaction between peoples, cultures and religions. In destroying it, we jeopardize the future .

Emphasizing that the choice today is between a headlong descent into the abyss and what may be the last chance for peace in the region , the Director-General expressed his readiness to lend his services to any mediation that might help to save lives and irreplaceable monuments and create the conditions for the resumption of a dialogue based on mutual respect .

UNESCO’s Culture Sector in Afghanistan

Preserving and Restoring Afghanistan’s Monuments, Sites and Museums

UNESCO launched an immediate Afghan Cultural Heritage assessment campaign to evaluate damage done and to develop a list of priorities for preservation work.

The sites under review, include the Kabul Museum, Bamiyan Valley, the Minaret of Jam; the mosque of Haji Piyada in Balkh Province; the site of Surkh Kotal; Herat, including the Friday Mosque and the ceramic tile workshop, the Musallah complex, particularly the fifth minaret; the Mausoleum Gawharshad, the mausoleum of Ali Sher Navaï and the Shah Zadehah mausoleum complex.

Interest in providing funds to UNESCO has already been expressed by the Governments of France, Germany, Greece and Italy. UNESCO estimates a minimum of 3,600,000 USD is needed for Afghanistan’s cultural restoration. Donations can be wired to the Special Emergency Fund for Afghan Cultural Heritage.

UNESCO’s first mission in December 2001, lead by Mr Paul Bucherer-Dietschi, The Director of the Swiss Afghanistan Museum, engaged the former Chief Curator of the Kabul Museum, Mr Omar Khan Massudi, and two Archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology of Kabul, Mr Mohamed Nadir Rasuli and Mr Mir Abdul-Raouf Zaker, to identify the remains of smashed statues, store them in protective boxes and evaluate their restoration needs.

Mr Bucherer-Dietschi also assessed the destruction at the Bamiyan site and noted that it extended beyond the large statues of Bamiyan to the smaller statues of Foladi and Kakrak. UNESCO has now secured the preservation of the ruins by placing the remaining large stone blocks under fibreglass covers to protect them from the winter.

Should the Buddhas of Bamiyan be rebuilt? UNESCO has received an official request from the current Government of Afghanistan and is convening a panel of international specialists to discuss possible reconstruction of the Buddhas in compliance with the International Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites (The Venice Charter, 1964) with a tentative date in May 2002.

The safekeeping and return of works of art of Afghan origin

UNESCO’s policy on the protective safekeeping of cultural property is quite simple. Where there is serious danger to the survival of heritage, and at the request of the recognized government of the country concerned, UNESCO will arrange the safe custody of objects donated to it and their return to that country when the situation allows.

UNESCO supports non-profit organizations working to take cultural objects into safe custody. It will not itself purchase objects that are being illicitly trafficked.

In the case of Afghanistan, and consequent to the destruction of heritage by the Taliban, UNESCO has created a special programme to assist in the rescue of cultural objects of Afghan origin.

UNESCO, in partnership with The Cultural Heritage Foundation in Japan, the Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage (SPACH) based in Islamabad, Pakistan and the Swiss Afghanistan Museum in Bubendorf, currently provides protective custody for Afghan cultural property found on the international art market and particularly objects stolen from museums or discovered during illicit excavations.

These objects once found and categorized, will then be returned to a peaceful Afghanistan.

The above text originally appeared in UNESCO’s Culture Monthly.

Report of the 25th Session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee

The Report of the 25th Session of the World Heritage Committee (11-16 December 2001) is available online, in English and French.

View the English version

The Working Documents for the 25th Session are available here