The 28th session of the World Heritage Committee was held in Sushou, China, under the chairmanship of Zhang Xinsheng, Vice Minister of Education of China and Chairperson of China’s National Commission for UNESCO, from 28 June to 7 July 2004. Over 700 delegates from States Parties, Advisory Bodies and non-governmental organizations participated. 29 cultural sites and 5 natural sites were added to the World Heritage List, bringing the total number of sites inscribed to 788 (611 cultural, 154 natural, and 23 mixed). 157 reports on the state of conservation were examined. Three properties were added to the List of World Heritage in Danger and three were removed from it. The Committee elected its Chairperson: Themba P. Wakashe of South Africa, Deputy Director-General for Heritage at the South Africa National Archives and Library Services; its Rapporteur: Ariel Gonzalez of Argentina, and its Vice-Chairpersons: Colombia, Lebanon, New Zealand, Nigeria and Portugal. The mandate of this Bureau will last until the end of the 29th session of the World Heritage Committee in July 2005.

During this eight-day session, in a warm and hospitable atmosphere created by the host country and by the city of Suzhou, the World Heritage Committee examined a considerable number of issues aimed at making its work, and the implementation of the World Heritage Convention more efficient.

Towards a balanced World Heritage List

One of its main concerns was to encourage the growth of under-represented categories of sites and improve geographical coverage. The Committee acknowledged that the so-called ‘Cairns Decision’ aimed to develop a more balanced World Heritage List had not been fully implemented.

On an experimental and transitory basis the Committee therefore decided to adopt a different mechanism that will be applicable at its the 30th session. At that time it will examine up to two complete nominations per State Party, provided that at least one of the nominations concerns a natural property. It has also set at 45 the limit on the number of nominations it will review at the 30th session, inclusive of nominations deferred and referred by previous sessions of the Committee, extensions, transboundary nominations and nominations submitted on an emergency basis.

The Committee called on the Secretariat to indicate to States Parties, within 30 days of reception of nomination proposals, whether their dossiers were complete. It also decided to develop a mechanism that would allow a State Party to correct what it considers to be factual errors in its inscription proposal.

The Committee also called on the WHC, in co-operation with States Parties, ICOMOS, IUCN, ICCROM, and other relevant partners to convene, no later than March 2005, a meeting of experts which is to make specific proposals to enable less-represented and non-represented States Parties to improve the quality of nominations and identify sufficient funding sources for the sustainable conservation of properties inscribed. The goal is to decrease, by the year 2007, by at least 30 % the number of less-represented and non-represented States Parties and to lower by 20 % the number of properties inscribed as of today on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The WHC is to report on the proposals and conclusions of this Experts Meeting at the 29th session of the Committee.

WHC – Work in Progress

The Committee also examined the work of the World Heritage Centre. It expressed its appreciation of the special activity in support of World Heritage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It also expressed strong concern at the critical shortages of permanent staff at the WHC, particularly in the Latin America and Caribbean, the Europe and North America and the Policy and Statutory Implementation Units as well as staff dedicated to natural heritage. It urged that these shortages be addressed in the Programme and Budget of UNESCO for the biennium 2006-2007, at the latest.

The WHC was also requested to submit the thematic initiatives on ‘Astronomy and World Heritage’ and ‘Marine Conservation’ for consideration at the 29th session.

The WHC was requested to report on the on-line database at the 29th session, with the understanding that it would become operational as of 1 April 2005. This database is to include information on the implementation of the decisions adopted at all the Committee’s sessions from the 26th onwards. The WHC was also requested to develop a similar database for the decisions adopted by the General Assembly of the States Parties to the Convention and to report on its progress at the 29th session.

The Committee decided that the revised Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the Convention, subject to approval by Vera Lacoeuilhe, Chairperson of the 27th session, would be applied as of 1 November 2004.

Despite this longer-than-usual Committee session, there was not sufficient time to discuss all items on the Agenda. It was thus decided to hold a 7th extraordinary session at UNESCO Headquarters, Paris 6-11 December 2004.

The 29th session of the Committee will be held in Durban, South Africa in July 2005.