The Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova has expressed her deep regret following the declaration of the Thai Minister Suwit Khunkitti during the 35th session of the World Heritage Committee being held at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris from 19 to 29 June 2011, on the intention of Thailand to denounce the 1972 World Heritage Convention.
Irina Bokova reiterated that "The World Heritage Convention of 1972 is not only the foremost international instrument for the preservation and protection of the world’s cultural and natural properties which have Outstanding Universal Value, but also widely recognized as an important and indispensable tool to develop and encourage international cooperation and dialogue”.
Contrary to widely circulated media reports, the World Heritage Committee did not discuss the Management Plan of the Temple of Preah Vihear nor did it request for any reports to be submitted on its state of conservation. Moreover, it needs to be clarified that UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre never pushed for a discussion of the Management Plan by the Committee.
The decision of the World Heritage Committee on the Temple of Preah Vihear World Heritage site in Cambodia only reaffirms the need to ensure the protection and conservation of the property from any damage. It further encourages the two countries to use the 1972 Convention as a tool to support conservation, sustainable development and dialogue.
The World Heritage Committee decision was adopted unanimously after Thailand staged a walkout. The request of Thailand to adjourn the debate was not supported by any other member of the World Heritage Committee.
While cognizant of the values and importance of the Temple of Preah Vihear, the Director-General has on many occasions called on Cambodia and Thailand to ensure its protection and sustainable development. She has emphasized that heritage should serve not for conflict but as a tool for dialogue and reconciliation. Earlier in February 2011, she had sent her special envoy Mr. Koichiro Matsuura, to the two countries, following clashes near the temple. Mrs. Bokova also facilitated consultations between the two Parties in May 2011 in Paris, with the aim of bringing closer their respective positions.
Intense negotiations were also held with the delegations of the two countries over the past five days on the sidelines of the 35th session of the World Heritage Committee, but no agreement could be reached.
The Director-General expressed the hope that Thailand will carefully consider its future course of action in respect of this important Convention and will continue to be an active participant in the international cooperation for the protection of the world’s outstanding heritage.