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UNESCO World Heritage. What to do? Let’s put the protection and the effective governance “at the center” again

The Italian World Heritage Sites Association cannot remain indifferent to the appeal launched by Francesco Bandarin on the role of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee and published on The Art Newspaper (10th July) and on Il Giornale dell’Arte (12th July).

We must recall that Mr. Bandarin is an architect and urban planner, specialized in urban heritage conservation, which was the Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Center and the Secretary of the World Heritage Convention from 2000 to 2010, and he served as Assistant Director-General of the UNESCO for Culture from 2010 to 2018.

With the necessary and rightful humility – due to the modest role of our Association within the international framework that sees the State Parties as the absolute protagonists of the application of the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage – We believe it is essential to find the space for a consideration and a call to the values of the fellowship of the World Heritage network.

«A call that, first of all, we must do to ourselves. – says Carlo Francini, Scientific Coordinator of the Italian World Heritage Sites Association – The value of the solidarity and the common commitment to the protection of the cultural and the natural heritage is at the basis of the inclusion in the World Heritage List. How can we pass on the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage sites to the future generations without keeping our eyes fixed on this direction?
«In managing a World Heritage site, the shared responsibility among the various institutions must put the development of the community awareness towards the value of the cultural legacy that we have inherited at the center, with the mission to deliver it “improved” to those who will come after us. Sometimes, following the work of the last years of the World Heritage Committee, it appeared to us that the moral, ethical and – more generally – the “conceptual” value of the 1972 Convention has been reduced to a mere race to the inscription of an increasing number of sites.»

A sterile competition that sees the local, national and international institutions identifying very frequently the inscription in the List as goal and not as one of the heterogeneous steps of a demanding and revolutionary work of the institution and of the management of the site concerned.
What can be the role of the technicians, administrators and institutions that revolve around the World Heritage to reverse this trend?

«First of all, for the sites already inscribed, it would be necessary to be committed with determination – at all levels – in a management coherent with the provisions of the Operational Guidelines of the World Heritage Center. A shared responsibility among all stakeholders that must put the community at the center. – explains Francini – UNESCO must create occasions of continuous involvement in the values and in the knowledge of the World Heritage, strongly encouraging the State Parties to follow and support international programs in order to emphasize the solidarity value of the network, particularly in regard to the topic of sustainability through the Agenda 2030 of the United Nations.
As for the process of formulating the List for new nominations, it would probably be appropriate to indicate more persuasive guidelines to which State Parties must draw inspiration.»

Francini launches a challeging idea: «Perhaps it could be an innovative choice, almost revolutionary – in my opinion – to inscribe in the List only those sites that have tested a management process coherent with the criteria related to the Outstanding Universal Value of the site during the period of their application. It would be a procedure that should start with the inclusion of a site in the Tentative List by the State Parties, through the consultation with the Advisory Bodies (ICOMOS, IUCN, ICCROM) and the National Commissions for UNESCO, and with the support of the national World Heritage Association. Therefore, it could be assumed that the duration of the nomination process is also the time needed to evaluate an effective governance model.»

However, as a focus of an overall consideration, an underlying theme remains: the need to recover the spirit of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage in order to tackle what Francesco Bandarin has called «the growing politicization of what was once an extensive debate on heritage protection» putting again the preservation of the «most extraordinary wonders of the world» at the center, as specified by Bandarin.

 

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