World Heritage Convention (WHC)

The Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (World Heritage Convention) links together in a single document the concepts of nature conservation and the preservation of cultural properties. The Convention recognises the way in which people interact with nature, and the fundamental need to preserve the balance between the two.

The World Heritage Convention was adopted in 1972 and entered into force in 1975. As of March 2005, it has 180 State Parties.

Objectives and Approach

The World Heritage Convention aims for the preservation of the cultural and natural heritage sites of outstanding universal value.

The Convention defines the kind of natural or cultural sites, which can be considered for inscription on the World Heritage List. The World Heritage List currently includes 812 properties forming part of the cultural and natural heritage, which the World Heritage Committee (see below) considers as having outstanding universal value. These currently include 628 cultural, 160 natural and 24 mixed cultural and natural properties in 137 States Parties.

The Convention sets out the duties of States Parties in identifying potential sites and their role in protecting and preserving them. By signing the Convention, each country pledges to conserve not only the World Heritage sites 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 programmes, set up staff and services at their sites, undertake scientific and technical conservation research and adopt measures which give this heritage a function in the day-to-day life of the community.

It explains how the World Heritage Fund is to be used and managed and under what conditions international financial assistance may be provided.

The Convention stipulates the obligation of States Parties to report regularly to the World Heritage Committee on the state of conservation of their World Heritage properties. These reports are crucial to the work of the Committee as they enable it to assess the conditions of the sites, decide on specific programme needs and resolve recurrent problems. It also encourages States Parties to strengthen the appreciation of the public for World Heritage properties and to enhance their protection through educational and information programmes.

The World Heritage Committee can inscribe on the List of World Heritage in Danger properties whose protection requires “major operations … and for which assistance has been requested”. The List is designed to inform the international community of conditions, which threaten the very characteristics, for which a property was inscribed on the World Heritage List, and to encourage corrective action.

Institutional structure

World Heritage Committee: The World Heritage Committee is the decision-making body of the Convention. It is responsible for the implementation of the 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. The Committee can also defer its decision and request further information on properties from the States Parties. 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. The World Heritage Committee meets once a year, and consists of representatives from 21 of the States Parties to the Convention elected by their General Assembly for terms up to six years.

Advisory bodies: The Convention identifies three organisations that advise the World Heritage Committee in its deliberations: the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM).

World Heritage Centre: Established in 1992, the World Heritage Centre is the focal point and coordinator within the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for all matters related to World Heritage. Ensuring the day-to-day management of the Convention, the Centre organises the annual sessions of the World Heritage Committee and its Bureau, provides advice to States Parties in the preparation of site nominations, organises international assistance from the World Heritage Fund upon request, and coordinates both the reporting on the condition of sites and the emergency action undertaken when a site is threatened. The Centre also organises technical seminars and workshops, updates the World Heritage List and database, develops teaching materials to raise awareness among young people of the need for heritage preservation, and keeps the public informed of World Heritage issues.

World Heritage Fund: The World Heritage Fund provides about US$4 million annually to support activities requested by States Parties in need of international assistance. It includes compulsory and voluntary contributions from the States Parties, as well as from private donations. The World Heritage Committee allocates funds according to the urgency of requests, priority being given to the most threatened sites. International assistance from the Fund can support requests falling under the following five categories: preparatory assistance, training assistance, technical cooperation, emergency assistance, and promotional and educational assistance.