During its 30th session (Vilnius, 2006), the Committee requested the State Party to invite a joint ICOMOS/World Heritage Centre mission to evaluate the implementation of the action plan defined by the Committee in its Decision 28 COM 15A.14, tomake recommendations concerning the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger, and to make a report to the Committee during its 31st session in 2007.
This mission, carried out from 19 to 24 February 2007, reached the following conclusions:
a) Completion of the legal mechanism :
The draft law for the protection of cultural heritage and natural heritage with cultural characteristics, prepared by the Cultural Heritage Direction in 2004, was transmitted by Presidential Decree N° 2006-425, on 28 August 2006, to the President of the Benin National Assembly. The mission noted the commitment of the authorities and appreciated their determination to provide the country with a law to protect the cultural heritage as soon as possible. The mission further concluded that the process for the completion of the legislative mechanism had progressed since the end of the presidential elections of April 2006, as witnessed by the transmission to the National Assembly of the draft law signed by the President of the Republic. Sufficient guarantees exist to confirm that this process is progressing and Benin will have a law governing cultural heritage that will enable it to propose new sites for inscription on the World Heritage List.
b) Boundaries of the property and establishment of the buffer zone:
The boundary of the property was realigned in February 2006. This enlarged the area of the property by 47ha 60 in comparison to the original 44ha. The buffer zone was also determined. It extends to 200 m from the boundaries of the property and comprises three specific zones with different restrictive levels. On the regulatory level, the Municipal Decree 2006-N°4/013/MCA/SG-SAG of 05 July 2006 concerning urban regulations, institutes this buffer zone. The mission considered that this measure had been fully fulfilled by the Benin State Party, which had officially submitted a request for a minor revision of the boundaries of the property for approval by the Committee at its 31st session.
c) Evaluation and updating of the Conservation and Management Plan of the property:
The evaluation of the old management plan covering the period 1999-2004 was carried out in May 2006. Based on its recommendations, a new management plan for 2007-2012 is being prepared under the coordination of an expert of CRATerre-ENSAG (International Centre for Earthen Constructions). A provisional version of this plan was submitted to the evaluation mission team. The document is almost complete. The mission was particularly impressed by the investment of the stakeholders in the preparation of the management and conservation plan, and by their mastery of its content. The work organized around these meetings with the stakeholders provided the opportunity to discuss the opinions of the site users, to update the historical data, to establish consensus on the site’s vision and cultural significance, and to affirm the sacredness of the Royal Palaces. It also initiated reflection on issues of authenticity and integrity, and finally allowed an evaluation of the conservation activities carried out between 1985 and 2006. The 2007-2012 action plan focuses on four practical objectives that concentrate on the continuous improvement of the state of conservation of the site. The mission considered that work was progressing satisfactorily and that the plan should be submitted by the State Party of Benin by end-April 2007 at the latest.
d) Continuation of restoration and conservation work to recover at least half of the structural elements of the property still considered to be seriously deteriorated:
In comparison to the situation observed in 2004 during the ICOMOS/World Heritage Centre Mission, where only 15ha were undergoing restoration work, the mission, following an in-depth examination of the site, made the following remarks:
(i) the complete clean-up of the entire perimeter facilitated the evaluation of the state of conservation of all the elements of the property;
(ii) other than the royal areas of Ghezo, Glélé, and Gbehanzin, the other royal areas (Huegbadja, Akaba, Agadja, Tegbessou, Kpengla, Agoli Agbo, Agonglo) have undergone stabilization and restoration work. The more culturally significant elements have been saved: the kings’ tombs, the main entrances (honuwa) ; the most important temples; the palaces of the kings (adjalala). Some of the wall sections have been rebuilt, but this work must be continued to make the boundaries of the different areas more distinct;
(iii) the Dossèmé, domain inhabited by the women incarnating the spirits of the Kings of Abomey, is also 95% restored thanks to the property’s own funds.
Maintenance of the property is ensured through daily inspections that are carried out over the 47ha in order to anticipate degradation and intervene rapidly. Staff is foreseen to carry out minor repair work. Larger equipment (diggers, wheelbarrows, etc.) will shortly be purchased, to improve efficiency in the work presently underway. The clean-up of the site boundaries and the Courtyard of the Amazons is carried out by Abomey Townhall. New conservation work will soon begin, notably on the Agadja royal area (with Norwegian funds), on the Houebgadja royal area (Museum funds and Public investment programme), and also on the Akaba royal area (Funds from the site and contributions from the Royal families). Activities will also be carried out in 2007 in the framework of a partnership established by the Town of Abomey with the City of Albi (France), for the installation of a lighting system for the Singbodji Square, its sanitation, signposting to facilitate access to the site, and the production of promotional documentation (postcards and pamphlets).
In view of all the activities being carried out, the mission concluded that the State Party had achieved the quasi-totality of the action plan elaborated by the World Heritage Committee in its Decision 28 COM 15A.14. It also concluded that the implementation of this action plan has revealed that there are no longer any threats or risk of loss of outstanding universal value, integrity and/or authenticity of the Royal Palaces of Abomey.
Therefore, the mission recommended to the World Heritage Committee to remove the Royal Palaces of Abomey from the List of World Heritage in Danger during its 31st session.