The 30th session of the World Heritage Committee, chaired by Ina Marčiulionytė, the Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Lithuania to UNESCO, started its work Sunday with an address by the Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, who highlighted the need for synergy between UNESCO's conventions on tangible heritage, intangible heritage, and diversity of cultural expressions. The President of Lithuania, Valdas Adamkus, opened the session during a gala evening at Vilnius Opera House on Saturday evening. In his address, the President spoke of the importance of international cooperation to preserve heritage and pointed out that many countries face similar problems in attempting to preserve their heritage: "We have to resolve the constant dilemma of how to accommodate business and investment needs to heritage protection requirements and how to find a direct road to sustainable development," President Adamkus said.
The Director-General of UNESCO addressed the representatives of 21 States Parties to UNESCO's 1972 World Heritage Convention who make up the World Heritage Committee saying that: "Cultural diversity is the ultimate purpose of our presence here. Indeed, you are gathered here to ensure that one of the most tangible aspects of the world's cultural diversity, tangible heritage, be preserved and looked after, to be bequeathed as undamaged as possible to future generations."
"It will be essential for UNESCO to ensure that the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage work in harmony with the 1972 World Heritage Convention," said Mr Matsuura, adding that the Convention on Intangible Heritage may help correct the existing geographical imbalance of the World Heritage List.
The Director-General pointed out that synergy between UNESCO's cultural conventions should also be extended to include the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions when it enters into force.
"They [the three conventions] now constitute the basis on which our efforts in favour of cultural diversity must rest," Mr Matsuura said. "The real stake will be to make them mutually supportive, as we cannot grasp the reality of culture except in its entirety."
The Director-General further proposed that the Committee consider ways and means to reform the work of the governing bodies of the World Heritage Convention so as to reinforce the strategic capacity of the General Assembly of the States Parties and increase the scientific and technical role of the Committee.
Also today, the Netherlands pledged to give €200,000 to support the African World Heritage Fund and India pledged US$50,000. The Fund, to help African States improve the preservation of their cultural and natural heritage and to help boost the number of African sites on UNESCO's World Heritage List, was launched in South Africa on 5 May. The South African Government made an immediate donation of 20 million rand (ca US$3.5million) to help launch the Fund.
The first fundraising campaign, initiated at the Fund's launch, seeks to achieve the initial target endowment of US$10 million. The following countries also pledged to support the fund, without specifying the amounts that will be given: Algeria, Gabon, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Kuwait, Madagascar, Mauritius, Morocco, Norway, Peru, Spain, Tanzania.
Africa is severely under-represented on the World Heritage List. Despite the continent's great cultural and natural diversity, only eight percent of the 812 World Heritage sites are to be found in Africa. They constitute 43 percent of sites on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
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