Cairns, Australia - The World Heritage Committee today opened its 24th annual session in Cairns, Australia. The meeting, hosted by the Australian Federal government and the government of the State of Queensland, was attended by over 320 people.

The meeting was attended by all twenty-one members of the World Heritage Committee: Australia, Belgium, Benin, Canada, China, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Mexico, Morocco, Portugal, Republic of Korea, South Africa, Thailand, and Zimbabwe as well as observer delegations from nearly 40 countries, representatives from the Advisory Bodies, ICOMOS, IUCN, and ICCROM, and nearly 30 other organizations.

The first welcoming speech of the morning was given by a representative of the Aboriginal Traditionals Owners, Ms. Jeanette Singleton. Ms Singleton, in welcoming the Committee to Cairns, reminded participants that her people had lived on the land around Cairns for thousands of years and that the first contact with Europeans had only been in 1876. She expressed her appreciation that the Committee was held in Cairns, highlighting both the two nearby World Heritage sites, Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics of Queensland, and the growing development and management issues that were facing the region as it became a popular tourist destination.

Other Australian representatives who welcomed the Committee were Roger Beale, Secretary of the (Federal) Department of the Environment and Heritage and Rod Welford, Minister for Environment and Heritage of the Queensland Government. Both paid tribute to the Aboriginal Traditional Owners on whose land the meeting was being held. On behalf of the Director General of UNESCO, Mounir Bouchenaki, Assistant Director General for Culture, transmitted his sincere gratitude to the Australian authorities for hosting the meeting and for their generosity and hospitality. He informed the Committee about reform measures currently being undertaken in UNESCO, which he linked to the complementary reforms being undertaken by the World Heritage Committee and the Secretariat. He said that he was fully confident that "Cairns 2000" would become as equally well-known as the recently concluded "Sydney 2000" and like it, a worldwide success.

Following Mr Bouchenaki, Francesco Bandarin, the new Director of UNESCO World Heritage Centre, also took the floor to acknowledge Australia's warm welcome. Mr. Bandarin, like the other speakers, praised the leadership of the outgoing chairman, Mr. Abdelaziz Touri (Morocco) in a challenging year.

New Bureau Elected

Mr. Peter King, Chairman of the Australian Heritage Commission since 1998, was elected as Chairperson by acclamation, following nomination and endorsements by the delegates of Hungary, Canada, Thailand and Benin.

Following a short coffee break, Mr. Dawson Munjeri from Zimbabwe was elected as Rapporteur. In quick succession, the remaining five members of the Bureau were nominated and accepted by the Committee by acclamation as Vice- Chairpersons: Canada, Ecuador, Finland, Morocco and Thailand.

The statutory task of the Bureau is to prepare recommendations for decision by the Committee on the inclusion of properties nominated by States Parties to the World Heritage List. The Bureau also examines State of Conservation reports and formulates recommendations to the Committee for future action to improve the conservation of the values for which those sites were inscribed. In case of serious threats, the Bureau may recommend to the Committee inscription of a property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

The newly-elected Chairperson, Mr Peter King, expressed his appreciation for the impressive manner in which Mr Touri had carried out his functions as Chairperson of the Committee. He pointed out that this had resulted in several important initiatives that occurred under his chairmanship. He thanked all Committee members for the support in his election and highlighted regional initiatives, which have much to offer. He concluded by stating his commitment to a new partnership in the World Heritage movement and to finding new ways of encouraging practical support for heritage conservation.

The morning session concluded with a presentation by the Director of the World Heritage Centre, Francesco Bandarin, on the activities of the Secretariat undertaken since the last session of the World Heritage Committee in 1999.

The Director indicated his preliminary views on the reorganization of the activities of the Centre, underlining the need to strengthen its staff and budget. The Director also called attention to the need to improve communication with the Committee and to rearrange the system of documentation. In particular, he outlined several ideas for changes in the areas of international assistance, information and education activities, and in research and analysis of the World Heritage.

A special feature of the day's agenda was a lunchtime panel discussion between Committee members and students from 16 countries in the Pacific region -- the concluding event in a 5-day World Heritage Youth Forum being held at James Cook University, near Cairns.

Examination Of Reform Proposals

The Committee spent much of the afternoon on the agenda item concerning the World Heritage Reform Groups - the Committee's Task Force on the Implementation of the Convention, the Working Groups on Representativity of the World Heritage List and on Equitable Representation in the World Heritage Committee, and the International Expert Meeting on the Revision of the Operational Guidelines. Their recommendations had been passed to the Committee by the Extraordinary session of the Bureau, meeting in Cairns the preceding Thursday and Friday.

The Committee elected to focus on four specific recommendations concerning:

  • Proposed reform of the calendar and cycle of World Heritage statutory meetings and feasibility study of the proposed system of sub-committees
  • Proposals on equitable representation in the World Heritage Committee
  • Representivity of the World Heritage List
  • Proposed revisions to the Operational Guidelines

 

On the first issue, the Committee accepted the recommendation of the Bureau and adopted a revised calendar for its meetings. It agreed that starting in 2002, the Committee will meet in June and the Bureau in April. The Committee decided to abolish the Extraordinary session of the Bureau and approved a pause in nominations for 2002. Concerning equitable representation on the Committee, after extensive discussion, the Chairman proposed that a drafting group be formed, chaired by Ambassador Musitelli of France to draft a text that could be adopted by the Committee and submitted to the 13th General Assembly in October 2001.

The Committee discussed the issue of the Representativity of the World Heritage List, finding agreement on many of the recommendations expressed by the Working Group that had met in 2000 under the chairmanship of Ambassador Yai (Benin). The Committee nevertheless deferred to the following day the discussion on the set of criteria to be adopted for determining the priorities in the acceptance of new nominations.

The meeting concluded at approximately 18:20.