Paris. The General Assembly of States Parties to the World Heritage Convention opened Tuesday, 30 October 2001 at 10 a.m. in the presence of the majority of the States Parties to the Convention.
After the opening of the session by Mounir Bouchenaki, UNESCO ADG Culture and representative of the Director General, Samuel Fernandéz Illanes, Ambassador of Chile to UNESCO, was elected Chairperson of the Assembly. Ms Sandra Kalniete, Ambassador of Latvia to UNESCO and Mr Boubaker Ben Fraj, Director General of the National Institute for Heritage of Tunisia were elected as Vice Chairpersons, and Ms Deanna Ongpin-Recto, First Secretary of the Philippines Delegation to UNESCO as Rapporteur.
Dr Christina Cameron, Canada, Chairperson of the World Heritage Committee until the election of a new Chairperson at the Fifth Extraordinary Session of the World Heritage Committee on 1 November 2001, presented the report on the Committee's activities in the period 2000-2001.
The General Assembly debated a proposal submitted by the former Chairperson of the WH Committee concerning a new additional voluntary contribution by States Parties to the World Heritage Fund.
The spokesman for the UNESCO Comptroller presented the statement of accounts of the World Heritage Fund including the status of the States Parties contributions.
A resolution on the protection of the cultural heritage of Afghanistan was adopted by the General Assembly, condemning the wilful destruction of this heritage, particularly the destruction of the Bamyan statues by the Taliban forces, as a "crime against the common heritage of humanity". Among other, the resolution invites the Director General of UNESCO to inform the Secretary General of the United Nations when the common heritage of humanity is threatened with wilful destruction, so that necessary steps may be taken.
During the afternoon session, the Assembly discussed the agenda item concerning improvement to the Representivity of the World Heritage List, as originally recommended by a Working Group of States Parties in 1999. In presenting the issue, the Director of the World Heritage Centre recalled the hard work by and sound proposals put forward by Amb. Yai concerning the importance of the Tentative Lists, and the management and rigour which should be the Committee's concern. He noted the Committee's decision to limit the number of sites to be examined in 2003, on a trial basis, to 30, as well as the number that could be nominated by any one State Party (only one per State Party, unless that country had no sites on the list.)
Sixteen States Parties spoke on the issue. All praised the work of the Working Group, and looked forward to its implementation in 2003 as the first substantial result of the Committee's determination to improve the representivity of the list. Several States Parties asked about how the Secretariat in February 2002 would go about selecting the 30 sites among the under-represented categories of sites that would be examined by the Committee in 2003, as the Committee had requested. In response, the Director of the Centre explained that on a provisional basis, for 2002, a group of categories would be outlined at the Committee's next session, in Helsinki. Several countries expressed fear that the Committee's concern for representivity might exclude possible nominations for important examples of certain well-represented categories of sites. In addition, several countries preparing joint nominations of transboundary properties asked how these would be considered in the new selection process. The Director responded by noting that while this type of site had not been considered by the Cairns Committee, a solution would be proposed in Helsinki that might encourage more of these nominations in the future.
Many States also took the floor in the discussions on equitable representation in the World Heritage Committee. Two States, Cuba and Georgia, used the opportunity to annouce the withdrawal of their candidature, and several also announced that if elected they would only serve for four years, in the interest of greater rotation on the Committee.
The session will continue on Wednesday, 31 October 2001, at 10 a.m. with Item 10 of the Agenda: Elections to the World Heritage Committee.
The provisional list of States Parties candidates, as of 30 October 2001, is as follows:
Argentina, Armenia, Czech Republic, Ethiopia, Guinea, India, Israel, Lebanon, Nigeria, Oman, Federation of Russia, Saudi Arabia, St Lucia, Tanzania, Togo, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan
(Note: the outgoing States are: Australia, Benin, Canada, Cuba, Ecuador, Italy, Malta, Morocco)