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UNESCO World Heritage Committee session ends

10.07.2015 - Article

Hamburg’s Speicherstadt is named a World Cultural Heritage site.

Following ten days of intensive negotiations in Bonn, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee has concluded its talks and awarded World Heritage List status to 24 new sites. Germany was pleased about the inclusion of Hamburg’s historic warehouse district, Speicherstadt, in the list. The Bonn Declaration on World Heritage was unanimously agreed. Its focus is on combating the destruction of cultural sites by terrorists. Civil society was more closely involved in the negotiations than ever before.

UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova (left) and Minister of State Böhmer at the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee
UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova (left) and Minister of State Böhmer at the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee© DUK/Kolja Matzke

The World Heritage Committee’s 39th session, which was held in Bonn, attracted more visitors than any previous meeting – over 3300 people, including some 200 journalists, attended the event. Chaired by Maria Böhmer, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, the Committee adopted important resolutions – sometimes following heated debates – and reviewed 141 World Heritage sites. To resounding applause, the Committee removed the Great Barrier Reef from the List of World Heritage in Danger, thanks to the hard work by the Australian Government in this area. There was also discussion on 36 new nominations, of which 24 were subsequently inscribed on the World Heritage List.


The Chilehaus building in Hamburg’s Kontorhaus district is one of Germany’s nominated World Heritage sites
The Chilehaus building in Hamburg’s Kontorhaus district is one of Germany’s nominated World Heritage sites© Bildarchiv des Denkmalschutzamts Hamburg

New German World Heritage site

Germany was particularly pleased that Hamburg’s historic warehouse and office district, Speicherstadt and Kontorhausviertel with the famous Chilehaus, have now been included in the prestigious list. This site was proposed by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany in 2013. Dating from the 19th century, Speicherstadt is a large warehouse complex in Hamburg’s port. It is built entirely on oak stakes, and is the largest of its kind worldwide.

Historic agreement between Japan and Korea

Acting as a mediator, and following intensive talks, Minister of State Böhmer succeeded in resolving a lengthy dispute on the nomination of the Japanese site Meiji, which is regarded as the home of the industrial revolution in Japan. However, in the Republic of Korea, Meiji stands for the suffering of Korean forced labourers during the Second World War. Böhmer described the fact that consensus was reached after lengthy strife as a “great moment for diplomacy”. Shared responsibility for preserving cultural heritage can thus also bring countries together in complex political issues.

Bonn Declaration on World Heritage

Devastation in the historic old city district of Sana’a
Devastation in the historic old city district of Sana’a© picture alliance / dpa

The Bonn Declaration on World Heritage, which was adopted unanimously, was also welcomed. In the text, the Committee unequivocally condemns the targeted destruction of cultural heritage currently being perpetrated in the area controlled by the terrorist group ISIS in the Middle East. The Declaration also condemns illegal trade in cultural objects, particularly as a source of funding for terrorists. Countries where cultural heritage sites are endangered by conflicts or natural disasters are to receive support.

As Committee chair, Germany was particularly interested in revising the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention. The aim of the structural reforms agreed in Bonn is to create greater transparency, foster dialogue and depoliticise cultural matters. In the future, the budget will focus to a greater extent on preserving existing World Heritage sites.

Civil society actively involved

A new feature of this year’s Committee session was that non‑governmental organisations (NGOs) were allocated space for side events and were able to take part in plenary discussions on specialised issues, such as the Great Barrier Reef. Minister of State Böhmer spent over two hours speaking with representatives of NGOs. Well-known organisations such as Greenpeace and the WWF praised this new openness.

The next session of the World Heritage Committee will take place in Istanbul, Turkey. It will be chaired by former Ambassador Gürcan Türkoğlu. In her closing address, Böhmer expressed her hope that the participants would take the “spirit of Bonn” with them to the next session.

World Heritage Sites in Germany

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Staatsministerin Böhmer präsentiert das neue UNESCO-Logo
Staatsministerin Böhmer präsentiert das neue UNESCO-Logo© AA

Staatsministerin Maria Böhmer, Präsidentin des UNESCO-Welterbekomitees, stellte am 30.01. das Logo für die 39. Sitzung des Komitees vor. Die Sitzung wird vom 28.06. bis 08.07. am deutschen UN-Standort Bonn stattfinden.
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