A week into the WHC session, with only one more day to go and this is how I feel. Disappointed. Appalled. Gobsmacked. Disinterested. In all honestly, there have been some happy, feel-good, enjoyable moments but these have been few OR completely unrelated to the sessions.
Firstly, here are the current Committee members: Angola, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Burkina Faso, China, Cuba, Guatemala, Hungary, Indonesia, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Norway, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Spain, Tunisia, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
Keeping in mind that the Committee should be a TRANSPARENT, OBJECTIVE and CREDIBLE entity under UNESCO, following the World Heritage Convention. After attending the first day, this was laughable.
Currently, there are 1073 sites on the World Heritage List – this figure in itself raises questions regarding the prestige of the List, and whether it’s original purpose is being fulfilled.
Within the first few days, the majority of Committee members had made statements regarding the importance of climate change, capacity building, sustainable development and tourism, involvement of local communities, equal representation of sites on the List and the reports/advice of the advisory bodies.
My favourite quote of day 1 made by Australia (of all countries) was, “The Heritage List is not a beauty contest.” Unfortunately, actions speak louder than words and throughout the week this statement and all the important issues mentioned above were disregarded when it suited State Parties, to achieve political agendas and relations.
The Cuba Missile Crisis 2018 occurred during day 3 of the session, seeing a stand-off between Cuba delegates and Chairperson Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa (member of the Bahrain Royal Family) over wording/understanding of the amendments to the draft decision and time wasting – the Chairperson really showed that dictatorship runs deep within the Bahraini Royal family. This session was regarding state of conservation – cultural properties in Asia-Pacific and the contentious issue of the day – taking most of the day to discuss, was Kathmandu Valley (Nepal). This site had been damaged by an earthquake in 2015. The recovery process has been slow and there has been a need for a coordinated recovery plan. This was one site the advisory board recommended for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The final decision was not to inscribe this site to the List of World Heritage in Danger. The discussions given by the Committee members and the feel of the room made it very clear that there is a perception that being on the List of World Heritage List is seen as a negative thing. It was obvious that tourism was an important factor in the final decision and the speech given by the State Party of Nepal, in that inscribing the site on the List of World Heritage in Danger would negatively impact tourism – a massive part of the region’s income. It’s all about those dollar dollar bills and not the protection, preservation and conservation of a site!
Two problems with how the Committee sessions are run: the process and time taken to reach decisions. So, basically Committee members speak their bit if they express a desire to do so, amendments are made and read (if there are any), a draft decision is adopted AND THEN NGOs and observers are given the floor to speak AFTER the decision has ALREADY been adopted and CAN NOT BE CHANGED. A flawed, un-credible system. Secondly, at the beginning of most sessions, the Chairperson highlights the time constraints and therefore, asks Committee members to speak only if there is an objection to the draft decision and their reasons for it. INSTEAD Committee members waste time congratulating State Parties on the draft decision (political relations aired for EVERYONE to see and acknowledge); speaking longer than the allocated time given; and discussing a site for a prolonged amount of time (some sessions have spent at least 1-2hrs discussing just ONE site).
From day 5, the discussions began on the nominations to the World Heritage List – DRAMA DRAMA DRAMA. Al-Ahsa Oasis, an Evolving Cultural Landscape (Saudi Arabia) was inscribed against the recommended non-inscription by the advisory board. In my view, this site was non-deserving of inscription due to the inadequate proposal given by the State Party. But hey, the WHC session is being conducted in Bahrain which are big suck ups to Saudi Arabia, so the decision reflects the pressure to please the host country. POLITICS POLITICS POLITICS.
The two sites inscribed so far on the World Heritage List which I think are actually worthy and deserving of inscription are the Thimlich Ohinga Archaeological Site (Kenya) and the Aasivissuit – Nipisat. Inuit Hunting Ground between Ice and Sea (Denmark). The site from Kenya had a vigorous proposal and showed massive efforts in meeting the criteria, working alongside the advisory bodies and WH Centre. I am especially supportive of the site in Denmark because the indigenous peoples of the area were involved in the nomination process and present at the decision, where one representative spoke in his mother tongue – ngaa mihi aroha ki a koutou ngaa tangata whenua o too taatou rohe! This sets a positive and hopeful precedence for future involvement of indigenous peoples regarding nominated sites.
On a negative note, these inscriptions were soured, in my view, by the meaninglessness of the List – over a thousand sites are inscribed on the list with only around 2 million available from the World Heritage Fund to support these sites (DEFINITELY not enough) and the types of sites that are now on the List – mainly inscribed due to political agendas, and in my view not fulfilling the essence of why the World Heritage Convention was ratified in the first place.
Today, day 7 saw the first anonymous voting situation on the Le Colline del Prosecco di Conegliano a Valdobbiadene (Italy) site. The recommendation from the advisory body was a non-inscription, but some Committee members wanted it inscribed and others wanted it deferred. A voting decision is a 2/3 majority (which is 14 out of the 21 Committee members) and the final tally was 12 for and 9 against. It was then amended and adopted as a referral (referral = State Party comes back in a year & deferral = State Party comes back in 1+ years). This was the most exciting thing to happen during the sessions so far and took a total of 2 hours to reach.
Silly/happy moments throughout the sessions:
1) International Indigenous Peoples Forum on World Heritage (IIPFWH) was formerly launched
2) Brazil delegate temporarily fills in for the Chairperson = so much better & efficient
3) Abundance of free stuff like postcards and badges
4) Food and drink are AMAZING (will definitely need to hit the gym when I get back home)
All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences.