Krakow: World Heritage Committee supports a more Structured Dialogue with Civil Society
From 2 to 12 July, the World Heritage Committee, composed of representatives from 21 of the 193 States Parties to the World Heritage Convention, gathered for its Annual meeting 2017 in Krakow, Poland, together with almost 2.000 participants from all over the world including the State Parties to the Convention and observers from the civil society and NGOs. Europa Nostra was represented by its Secretary General, Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović, as well as by Laurent Lévi-Strauss, Council member from France, and Claus-Peter Echter, Secretary General of ICOMOS CIVVIH and Council member from Germany. Several members of the European Heritage Alliance 3.3 were also present, including the Organisation of World Heritage Cities, ICOM ad ICOMOS (attending as one of the three Advisory Bodies set up by the World Heritage Convention).
During the session, the Committee inscribed 21 new sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List and extended or modified the boundaries of 5 sites already on the List, which brings to 1.073 the total number of sites on the World Heritage List. The Committee furthermore added one site (the Historic Centre of Vienna) to the List of World Heritage in Danger from which it removed 3 other sites. For more information on the meeting’s outcomes, see here.
The 41st Session of the World Heritage Committee was chaired by Prof. Jacek Purchla, President of the Polish National Commission for UNESCO and Director of the International Cultural Centre in Krakow who is also a long-standing Council member of Europa Nostra. At the opening ceremony held on 2 July in the impressive historic setting of the Wawel Castle, Prof. Purchla highlighted key UNESCO priorities including education and youth, and stressed the huge importance that Poland attached to heritage and its protection. He also underlined the increasing role of the civil society and non-governmental organisations affirming that “Heritage is people – heritage is us: its creators, interpreters, and users. The links between society and heritage have been identified as central to the debate on human inheritance and its preservation”. For this reason, Prof. Purchla stressed his personal commitment to enhancing the involvement of civil society organisations in the implementation of the World Heritage Convention. He therefore extended his special thanks to Europa Nostra for organising, together with the Host Country represented by the National Board of Poland, the side-event entitled “For a Structured Dialogue with Civil Society on World Heritage Matters”.
On the first day of the World Heritage Committee, the Europa Nostra delegation had a very fruitful meeting with Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO. On this occasion DG Bokova expressed her full support to the “Krakow Initiative” promoting a more structured dialogue with civil society on World Heritage matters. Irina Bokova and Europa Nostra also discussed the opportunities offered by the forthcoming European Year of Cultural Heritage to further strengthen the cooperation between the European Union and UNESCO with regard to cultural heritage, as well as to get a full recognition at the highest possible political level of the multiple value of cultural heritage for our society, economy and environment.
The above-mentioned side-event took place on 5 July and was attended by more than 50 representatives of the State Parties and representatives of the civil society. The aim of this side event was to discuss ways to enhance the quality and effectiveness of civil society involvement in the implementation of the World Heritage Convention as well as to better structure this dialogue – among others – through international and regional NGOs which express the views and concerns of civil society committed to the safeguard and enhancement of cultural and natural heritage.
The side-event discussion was moderated by Europa Nostra’s Secretary General who welcomed the event’s participants together with Prof. Purchla; they both stressed that our ambition must be to give a new quality to the involvement of civil society by building a “structured dialogue” non only with the World Heritage Committee and its Secretariat but also with the three Advisory Bodies. Representatives of these Advisory Bodies, (Ayse Ege Yildrim, Focal Point for the UN Sustainable Development Goals on behalf of ICOMOS, Tim Badman, Director of the World Heritage Programme on behalf of IUCN, and Stefano De Caro, Director General of ICCROM), fully agreed with this important objective. Dr. Mechtild Rössler, Director of Heritage Division & Director of the World Heritage Centre also contributed to the discussion and expressed the readiness of the World Heritage Centre team to explore with civil society representatives the best ways to build a more structured dialogue in the future.
On 10 July under item 7 (closing of the item) of the World Heritage Committee Agenda, the Secretary General of Europa Nostra conveyed to the Committee the key messages identified before, during and after the side event on basis of numerous conversations and consultations with the various partners concerned. She acknowledged that a lot has been done to involve civil society at various levels on World Heritage matters but stressed that more could still be done to ensure that the dialogue with civil society becomes more structured, more regular and thus more effective to further strengthening the good governance, the credibility and the effectiveness of the World Heritage Convention. She also highlighted that the Convention and its Operational Guidelines, together with some other recent documents, give ample space for the building of such a dialogue and called for further efforts on all sides to achieve a more structured dialogue with civil society, including the fact that the heritage NGOs have to organise themselves better in order to provide a credible and manageable platform and partner for dialogue and to ensure a more systematic and effective input from civil society organisations with regard to cultural heritage sites which figure on the World Heritage List.
Finally she mentioned that Europa Nostra stands ready to pursue this “Krakow initiative” by coordinating an informal working group composed of representative heritage NGOs and with due participation of the World Heritage Committee, World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies to discuss and make some recommendations for a more structured dialogue with Civil Society on World Heritage matters.
These messages have been duly acknowledged in the Decision 7 adopted by the World Heritage Committee which “takes note with appreciation of the Chairperson of the 41st session of the World Heritage Committee’s initiative on structured dialogue with civil society and encourages States Parties and civil society organisations to continue exploring possibilities how civil society can further contribute to enhanced conservation of heritage on the site and national level and provide relevant input to the heritage related debate at the global level”.
Finally, in his closing address of the 41st Session on 12 July, Prof. Purchla affirmed that “the side event “For a structured dialogue with civil society” opened up the discussion among non-governmental organisations themselves and initiated the process of channeling their voice towards partnership with world heritage experts.” He also expressed the hope that this discussion initiated in Krakow will be continued after the end of the 41st session and that it will lead up to structural solutions beneficial for all World Heritage Sites.