Marking the 45th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention
“Heritage is not a luxury—it is a precious asset”
In 1945, shortly after the end of World War II, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was founded and headquartered in Paris, France. The primary mission of UNESCO is to build an overarching culture of peace around the world. Situated on a modern campus representing the mid-20th-century ideals of international art and architecture, UNESCO now has 195 member states and 10 associate members. Soon, the United States will not be one of them. (The 2011 photo above shows the UNESCO grounds and Eiffel Tower in the background at night).
The US was a founding party of UNESCO in 1945 and remained its largest funder for nearly 40 years. In 1984, however, citing a divergence in goals, the US withdrew from UNESCO and did not return to the organization for almost 20 years. In 2003, the US rejoined UNESCO and once again began providing international leadership in the fields of science, education, and culture. Now, the US is scheduled to withdraw once again (to take effect in 2018), citing an alleged anti-Israel bias within the organization.
One of the most important advances made by UNESCO is bringing international attention to the destruction of cultural property during armed conflict (see the Hague Convention), which has been particularly egregious across the Middle East, most recently with the destruction of heritage sites in Syria and Iraq by ISIS. UNESCO also works to promote international cooperation in stemming the sale of illegal antiquities that has provided significant funding to ISIS as well as other programs to protect cultural heritage. And, of course, the World Heritage Convention, which is administered by UNESCO, promotes the protection of natural and cultural sites around the world that have outstanding universal value, including monitoring endangered World Heritage sites.
The World Heritage Convention was adopted in 1972, with the United States as the first state party to sign it. In part because of the popularity of the program and also the increasing administrative demands for nomination, review, and adoption of sites to the World Heritage List, as well as the demands for monitoring sites and conducting periodic reviews, the World Heritage Centre was created in 1992. Now, on the 45th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention, the Director of the World Heritage Centre released a message on the continued importance of this international program for the global protection of natural and cultural heritage.
By Mechtild Rőssler
World Heritage Centre, UNESCO
November 16, 2017