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World Heritage and Indigenous Peoples

© OUR PLACE The World Heritage Collection / Chris Morton / Ngorongoro Conservation Area (United Republic of Tanzania)

The interpretation of the World Heritage Convention is constantly evolving. In 1992, the World Heritage Committee decided to include “cultural landscapes” as a new category of World Heritage properties.  As a result of this decision, Australia’s Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park could be re-nominated for its cultural values, according to the wishes of the traditional Aboriginal owners. In the same year, the Committee accepted traditional management as an adequate form of management for World Heritage properties. The launch ot the Global Strategy for a Balanced and Representative and Credible World Heritage List in 1994, constituted another important step towards the recognition of indigenous peoples.

In November 2000, a proposal to establish a World Heritage indigenous people Council of Experts (WHIPCOE) was discussed at the 24th session of the World Heritage Committee in Cairns (Australia). It was well received by the World Heritage Committee and a feasibility study was presented at the 25th session of the Bureau of the World Heritage Committee, Paris (France), June 2001. However, the proposal was ultimately not accepted by the Committee as it raised a number of legal concerns and issues relating to the funding, legal status, role and relationships with States Parties, Advisory Bodies, the World Heritage Committee and the World Heritage Centre. 

Nonetheless, since 2005, the Operational Guidelines have promoted a “partnership approach to nomination, management and monitoring” as stated in paragraph 40. Furthermore, the Committee adopted a fifth strategic objective in 2007, for "Communities", better known as the “fifth C”, with the aim “to enhance the role of communities in the implementation of the World Heritage Convention”.  In the same year, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of indigenous peoples was adopted. This Declaration explicitly addresses the rights of indigenous peoples. On the occasion of the Declaration’s preliminary adoption by the Human Rights Council in 2006, UNESCO’s Director-General at the time, Koïchiro Matsuura issued a message in which he underlined the great importance indigenous organizations to UNESCO’s work. The involvement of indigenous peoples and local communities in decision making, monitoring and evaluating the state of conservation of properties was encouraged by the World Heritage Committee in 2011

In 2012, the World Heritage Convention celebrated its 40th anniversary. It was essential that the anniversary encompassed the entire World Heritage community including local people. As such, the theme of the anniversary was “World Heritage and Sustainable Development: the Role of Local Communities”. Among the many events organized worldwide to mark this anniversary year, was the International Expert Workshop on the World Heritage Convention and indigenous peoples in Copenhagen on 21 and 22 September 2012. The principal aim of this encounter was to facilitate constructive dialogue with a view to formulating appropriate recommendations to the World Heritage Committee regarding procedures and the Operation Guidelines. As a follow-up to the workshop, the Operational Guidelines were amended in 2015 to include specific references to indigenous peoples in paragraphs 40 and 123. 

In 2015, the Word Heritage Committee also endorsed the Sustainable Development Policy, which was adopted by the 20th session of the General Assembly of States Parties (Paris, 2015). The policy makes specific reference to “Respecting, consulting and involving indigenous peoples and local communities”, emphasizing that the recognition of rights and the full involvement of indigenous peoples and local communities, in line with international standards, lies at the heart of sustainable development.