Speech by Minister of State Maria Böhmer at the 20th General Assembly of States Parties to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention in Paris

18.11.2015 - Speech

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Madam Chairperson,
Madam Director-General,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Minister of State Böhmer is regrettably unable to attend today’s 20th General Assembly of the States Parties to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention. She has therefore asked me to present her report on the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee in Bonn on her behalf.

Following the despicable terrorist attacks in Paris, Prof. Böhmer must attend an important meeting with the Federal Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel in Berlin today, which has unfortunately forced her to cancel her trip.

The night of 13 November was one of the most terrible nights that Europe has experienced for a long time. The people here in Paris were made to suffer a nightmare of violence, terror and fear.

Our profound sympathy goes out to the families of the victims and all of those who were injured, of whom many are still fighting for their lives. In this moment of suffering and despair, but also of commitment to our shared values, we stand by the side of our French friends and wish them strength at this difficult time.

This attack on freedom not only targeted Paris – it is an attack on us all and affects us all. This is why we as citizens will offer a clear response, which is that ours is a society of compassion, Christian love and joy of living in a community. We know that our free life is stronger than any form of terror.

The Government of Germany, the European Union and the international community, will, as was emphasised recently at the G20 Summit, do their utmost to ensure the security of their citizens and to successfully combat ISIS.

On behalf of the Chair of the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee, I would like now to inform you about the activities and decisions of the World Heritage Committee since the 19th General Assembly of the States Parties to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

I would like to thank all those countries which placed their trust in us in electing Germany to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, especially during our 2014/2015 Chairmanship. Your trust and support were a decisive factor behind the success of the World Heritage Committee’s session in Bonn.

Two days ago, UNESCO turned seventy –seventy years in which it has lost none of its appeal. On the contrary, with its 195 members, UNESCO is an organisation that unites almost the entire family of states to help promote peaceful co‑existence through culture, education and science.

UNESCO has achieved great successes. These undoubtedly include the protection of humankind’s cultural and natural heritage with the World Heritage Convention.

The challenges, particularly for the World Heritage Convention, are plain to see. The deliberate destruction of World Heritage sites by IS in Iraq and Syria is primarily targeted against the people of these countries and aims to rob them of their cultural identity and history.
We know that those who rob people of their cultural identity and history also rob them of their future. This is why we must see these barbaric acts for what they are – namely as attacks on human civilisation.

Our task was and remains to continue to develop the instruments of the World Heritage Convention so that we can master these challenges and safeguard the future of humankind.

The 39th session of the World Heritage Committee in Bonn sent clear signals in this regard:

- With the Bonn Declaration, we denounced the destruction of World Heritage sites as a war crime.
- With the campaign Unite4 Heritage, we have raised awareness of our shared heritage among the young generation.
- We have put the preservation of World Heritage sites more strongly into the spotlight once again.
- We have made the tools of the World Heritage Convention fit for the future with a pioneering agenda for reform.
- With a platform for NGOs, we have acknowledged that civil society is committed to ensuring that the World Heritage Convention is a success.
- Last but not least, we have managed together to resolve politically controversial new nominations and conflict-laden questions surrounding the preservation of World Heritage sites.

These successes impressively demonstrate the strength and future viability of the World Heritage Convention.

All States Parties to the World Heritage Convention are called upon to reassess the tools at their disposal in light of the enormity of the challenges to be faced.
We have held intensive discussions on this issue in the German Bundestag. The outcome of these deliberations was that the German Bundestag has agreed to increase funding for the Cultural Preservation Programme of the Federal Foreign Office in order to be able to provide more emergency aid.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The States Parties to the World Heritage Convention are a strong community: With the accession of the Bahamas in 2014, 191 countries are now committed to working together to preserve humankind’s cultural and natural heritage. These 191 countries are united by the conviction that our shared heritage must also be protected together –irrespective of political systems, religions or cultural traditions.

Held every two years, the General Assembly of States Parties to the World Heritage Convention provides the framework for raising the profile of the World Heritage Programme and ensuring its sustainable development. The World Heritage Committee translates this framework into action with its decisions.

Permit me to thank the nine outgoing members of the World Heritage Committee, Algeria, Colombia, India, Japan, Malaysia, Senegal, Serbia and Qatar, and also the German delegation, for their selfless dedication. They have launched pioneering initiatives over the past four years. With their decisions, they have made an important contribution to protecting World Heritage sites at a time of sweeping change.

At its 39th session, the Committee inscribed 24 new properties on the World Heritage List – 23 cultural, 0 natural and 1 mixed.

The total number of properties on the World Heritage List now stands at 1,031, of which
802 are cultural,
197 are natural and
32 are mixed.
These properties are located in 163 States Parties.

Three sites were inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger:
Hatra (Iraq),
the Old City of Sa’na (Yemen) and
the Old Walled City of Shibam (Yemen).

One site, the Los Katíos National Park (Colombia), was removed from this list. The total number of properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger currently stands at 48 (30 cultural and 18 natural).

These figures show very clearly that preserving inscribed sites is at least as important as inscribing new sites.

With periodic reporting and reactive monitoring, we have efficient instruments at our disposal for monitoring and safeguarding the outstanding universal value of the World Heritage sites. The decisions on Los Katíos National Park and the Great Barrier Reef are outstanding examples in this regard.

A great cause for concern are the World Heritage sites in theatres of war. Many people are losing their lives, are brutally murdered, because they protect and defend shared values, such as Khaled al‑Assad in Palmyra. We will work intensively to ensure that there will be a new beginning under peaceful auspices for these people and World Heritage sites.

We need a strategy for the destroyed and heavily damaged World Heritage sites. In order to tackle this enormous task, we must:

- First, prioritise the necessary projects and measures,
- Second, prohibit illegal trade with cultural property and subject it to criminal prosecution,
- Third, systematically record the state of the threatened sites, also via satellite systems,
- Fourth, identify future stakeholders, and
- Fifth, develop intelligent financing models with the inclusion of the UNESCO Fund, bilateral funding and aid programmes of foundations and NGOs.

The solidarity of the international community is decisive for implementing these aims. This solidarity depends on the commitment of each and every State Party to the shared values of the World Heritage Convention.
The broad backing for the Bonn Declaration and resolution 69/281 on the protection of Iraqi cultural property, co‑sponsored by Germany and Iraq and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 28 May 2015, was decisive.

The Bonn Declaration, adopted in consensus, clearly condemns the destruction of cultural heritage as a war crime that must be subject to criminal prosecution. We must all lend our support to the proceedings of the respective prosecuting authority or the International Criminal Court.

In order to raise awareness of world heritage and to make the international community better able to respond, we must redouble our efforts in the following five areas:

- First, training and further education
- Second, greater commitment to young people
- Third, improved public relations work
- Fourth, further improvements to working methods and continuing reform efforts
- Fifth, shoring up our financial basis

Training and further education are vital for strengthening the regional and national institutions. This will help us to safeguard high standards around the world.
The World Heritage Centre and Advisory Bodies, in close cooperation with States Parties and relevant Category 2 Centres, have therefore organised numerous capacity-building activities.

It remains a priority to mobilise and encourage young people to do their part to protect cultural and natural heritage. Related educational and youth activities, such as the World Heritage Volunteers programme and the World Heritage Youth Forum, are of utmost importance.

Against this backdrop, young experts on world heritage met in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley and in Bonn for the Young Expert Forum “Towards a Sustainable Management of World Heritage Sites” held from 18 to 29 June 2015. They discussed issues relating to the sustainable management of World Heritage sites and presented their results at the beginning of the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee.

Increasing public awareness, involvement and support for World Heritage through communication and enhancing the role of communities are cornerstones for the successful and sustainable implementation of the World Heritage Convention.

An important tool in this context is the website of the World Heritage Centre: the number of visitors has significantly increased, from 9.8 million visits in 2012 to 12.6 million visits in 2014.

The wide dissemination of various World Heritage publications has helped to raise the Convention’s profile and facilitated knowledge-sharing with relevant stakeholders.

The World Heritage Committee has spearheaded a number of initiatives in order to improve working methods, transparency and communication in the context of the World Heritage Convention. The impetus for this was provided by a meeting at the Director-General’s initiative entitled “The World Heritage Convention: Thinking Ahead” on 21 January 2015.

Comprehensive reforms were necessary in order to ensure the future viability of the World Heritage Convention. The World Heritage Committee launched these reforms at its 38th session in Doha. Prior to the 39th session in Bonn, the working group tasked with this drafted comprehensive proposals for improving procedures for nominating and evaluating World Heritage sites.

In particular, the aim was to strengthen transparency, dialogue and a focus on results in the procedures. These recommendations were anchored in the Operational Guidelines and are therefore binding. IUCN, ICCROM and ICOMOS were heavily involved in the work and have carried out a number of reforms of their own.

From now on, there is a clear focus on World Heritage preservation in the area of finances. We have therefore created a sustainable and future-oriented basis for the work of the World Heritage Committee.

I have enjoyed considerable support as Chair of the 39th World Heritage Committee. Allow me to thank you all for this cooperation in a spirit of trust.

The World Heritage Centre has performed its tasks as Secretariat of the World Heritage Committee most excellently. Its former Director Mr Kishore Rao always offered me excellent advice. The same is true of his successor Dr Mechtild Rößler.
We were all most delighted to learn of Dr Rößler’s appointment by Director-General Irina Bokova. The World Heritage Programme is in good hands.

Permit me to conclude by extending my personal thanks to the staff of the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies IUCN, ICCROM and ICOMOS once again.

I can say with great conviction that the World Heritage Committee is in good shape. We have reformed our procedures and working methods in key areas. The World Heritage Convention is fit for the future. It is crucial now for us, the States Parties, to build on this and to actively shape the future.

Thank you very much.

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