The future of the World Heritage Convention ahead of its 40th anniversary next year and the growing challenges of heritage preservation were the key themes of the opening addresses of the 35th session of the World Heritage Committee at UNESCO in Paris today. The session will end on 29 June.

The Chairperson of 35th session, Shaikha Mai bint Muhammad Al Khalifa, Minister of Culture of the Kingdom of Bahrain, argued that "the future of the Convention is essential [...] to maintain efforts carried out over almost 40 years for the protection of irreplaceable and priceless heritage of humanity."

The Chairperson highlighted the challenges to the credibility of the Convention: "its relations with other international conventions, the balance within the World Heritage List [...] between the types and categories of properties inscribed, the reinforcement of capacities [...], the essential role of local communities, awareness raising and the promotion of the principles of the Convention."

"In a world of change, World Heritage is a reminder of all that unites humanity," said the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova. "It is a reminder also of the ties between culture, nature and societies."

"World Heritage sites can be tremendous vectors for dialogue, reconciliation, development and knowledge," said Bokova, who nevertheless pointed out: "As the number of World Heritage sites grows, so does their vulnerability. We must sharpen our focus on risk preparedness and long-term management at World Heritage sites," she said.

Both Davidson L. Hepburn, President of UNESCO's General Conference, and Eleonora Valentinova Mitrofanova, Chairperson of the Organization's Executive Board, highlighted the importance of World Heritage protection for UNESCO and for the international community.

During the coming days, the World Heritage Committee will examine the state of conservation of 169 World Heritage properties, including 34 on the List of World Heritage in Danger. It will also examine 37 sites proposed for inscription. They are:

Natural properties: Ningaloo Coast (Australia); Pendjari National Park (Benin, an extension of W National Park of Niger); Wudalianchi National Park (China); Ancient Beech Forests of Germany (Germany, an extension of the Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians, Slovakia and Ukraine); Western Ghats (India); Harra Protected Area (Iran); Ogasawara Islands (Japan); Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley; (Kenya); Trinational Sangha (Congo, Cameroon, Central African Republic) and the nomination under new criteria of the World Heritage property of Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park (Viet Nam).

Three properties are proposed for both natural and cultural criteria as "mixed natural and cultural" sites. They are: Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park (Jamaica); Wadi Rum (Jordan); and Saloum Delta (Senegal).

The following cultural properties will be considered for inscription: Pearling, Testimony of an Island Economy (Bahrain); Bridgetown and its Garrison (Barbados); West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou (China); Coffee Cultural Landscape (Colombia); Konso Cultural Landscape (Ethiopia); The Causses and the Cévennes (France); The architectural work of Le Corbusier, an outstanding contribution to the Modern Movement (France, Argentina, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Switzerland); Fagus Factory in Alfeld (Germany); The Persian Garden (Iran); The Triple-arch Gate at Dan (Israel); The Longobards in Italy, Places of Power, 568 - 774 A.D., (Italy); Hiraizumi - Temples, Gardens and Archaeological Sites Representing the Buddhist Pure Land (Japan); Fort Jesus, Mombasa (Kenya); Transboundary Nomination for Yapese Stone Money Sites in Palau and Yap (Micronesia / Palau); Petroglyphic Complexes of the Mongolian Altai (Mongolia); León Cathedral (Nicaragua); Cultural Landscape of the Serra de Tramuntana (Spain); Archaeological Sites of the Island of Meroe (Sudan); Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps (Switzerland, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia); Ancient villages of Northern Syria (Syrian Arab Republic); Selimiye Mosque and its social Complex (Turkey); Residence of Bukovinian and Dalmatia Metropolitans (Ukraine); Cultural Sites of Al Ain: Hafit, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and Oases Areas (United Arab Emirates); Citadel of the Ho Dynasty (Viet Nam).

The World Heritage Committee, responsible for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention, comprises representatives of 21 countries, elected by the States Parties of the World Heritage Convention for four years. Each year, the Committee adds new sites to the List.

The World Heritage Committee also examines reports on the state of conservation of inscribed sites and asks States Parties to take appropriate conservation and preservation measures when necessary. The Committee supervises the disbursement of over $4 million annually from the World Heritage Fund, aimed, among other purposes, at emergency action, training of experts and encouraging technical cooperation. UNESCO's World Heritage Centre is the Secretariat of the World Heritage Committee. The debates of the Committee are closed to the press.

To date, the World Heritage List numbers 911 properties of "outstanding universal value," including 704 cultural, 180 natural and 27 mixed properties in 151 States Parties. The World Heritage Convention has been ratified by 187 States Parties to date.


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