Last night was the closing ceremony for the 42nd WHC meeting in Manama, Bahrain 2018. Originally, it was to be held at the Arad Fort (Katie, Manu and I were all REALLY looking forward to going to the Fort) when it was changed to the World Pavilion at the Ritz Carlton. The venue was beautifully decorated (my favourite items were the copper lanterns hanging from the ceiling) with a clear, mirror-like wall dividing the space into two areas, and the tables were laden with delicious smelling and exquisitely decorated savoury and sweet dishes. I can’t speak for the other two delegates, but my mind was purely on the food!!! Non-alcoholic drinks were offered by the servers – it became quite obvious later into the night that the alcohol had been reserved for the Chairperson and WHC director, due to their unusually cheerful and carefree natures on the dance floor. A few speeches were said (couldn’t make out who the first speaker was or what she said as it was a bit too noisy) but one was definitely the Chairperson but again could only vaguely guess what she was saying – thanking everyone for their hard work during the sessions, what a great result of 20 inscriptions to the World Heritage List etc etc etc. Lastly, the WHC director spoke (again couldn’t hear but similar sentiments to the Chairperson) and the food was ready – woop woop!
I helped myself to a variety of dishes offered such as lamb tagine, couscous and others I can’t remember the name of but were oh so delicious! As I sat, happily eating my kai, I looked around the room and wondered if the Committee members who were eating, drinking, talking and laughing away, were doing so with a guilty conscience. Here we were celebrating a corrupt, flawed, Eurocentric and politicly motivated system. Through my observations and notetaking, I have estimated that approximately 60% of the recommendations given by the advisory bodies, regarding nominations to the World Heritage List were changed and amended by the Committee members. ALL recommended non-inscription were either inscribed or referred and ALL recommended referrals were inscribed. These included sites such as Al-Ahsa Oasis, an Evolving Cultural Landscape (Saudi Arabia) non-inscription to inscription, Sassanid Archaeological Landscape of Fars Region (Islamic Republic of Iran) deferral to inscription, Naumburg Cathedral (Germany) non-inscription to inscription, and Fanjingshan (China) referral to inscription. Canada, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, Slovenia, Denmark and Colombia all put in interventions on how the Committee have made a regular habit of going against the advice of the advisory bodies – who are the objective experts (even though this is also debatable) which calls into question the Committees integrity. It was great that a number of state parties raised this issue and going back to what Australia said on the first day – “the Heritage List is not a beauty contest”, it did come a little too late (not their fault but that is the structure of the WHC meeting). The Committee members HAD gone against the advisory bodies numerous times and unfortunately, the decisions were finalised.
Hopefully, some of the younger people we meet and hung out with, and the Youth Forum that was present at the beginning of the conference will make the necessary changes to fulfil what the World Heritage Convention should be and not what it has turned into. This broken wheel that is World Heritage needs to be remade.
So, only one more day to go and then I’ll be back in NZ – I don’t know what makes me sadder, knowing that the WHC has shattered my bubble of an objective global mechanism formed on the basis of peace, protection, preservation and conservation OR going home to freezing cold weather. What a hard choice!
All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences.