Thirty States have now ratified the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage, adopted in October 2003 by the UNESCO General Conference, allowing it to enter into force on 20 April 2006, that is three months after the 30th instrument of ratification has been deposited. The Convention has been ratified by: Algeria, Mauritius, Japan, Gabon, Panama, China, Central African Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Republic of Korea, Seychelles, Syrian Arab Republic, United Arab Emirates, Mali, Mongolia, Croatia, Egypt, Oman, Dominica, India, Vietnam, Peru, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nigeria, Iceland, Mexico, Senegal and Romania. UNESCO Director-General, Koïchiro Matsuura, welcomed the exceptionally rapid ratification of this new instrument, which will enter into force in just a little more than two years after its adoption by the General Conference. “This shows the great interest in intangible heritage all over the world, whether in the countries of the South or of the North, and the widespread awareness of urgent need for its international protection given the threat posed by contemporary lifestyles and the process of globalization. It was absolutely necessary to fill in the legal void concerning this essential aspect of cultural diversity and to offer to living cultures inherited through tradition adequate means of preservation,” he said.
This Convention completes the standard-setting instrument taken by UNESCO to preserve the tangible heritage and aims to safeguard oral traditions and expressions (including language as a vehicle of the intangible heritage), performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe, as well as know-how linked to traditional crafts.
The States Parties to the Convention commit themselves to taking the necessary measures to safeguard the intangible heritage present in on their territory and to establish one or more inventories of this intangible heritage with the participation of the communities and groups that create, maintain and transmit this heritage. An international cooperation and assistance mechanism is also included.
The Convention stipulates the establishment of two lists: the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. It also foresees the creation of a Fund for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which will be financed by contributions from States Parties and other sources.
The General Assembly of States Parties, which is to meet for the first time from 27 to 29 of June, 2006*, will be the sovereign organ of the Convention.* It will be implemented by an Intergovernmental Committee composed of representatives from 18 States Parties (to be expanded to 24 once 50 States Parties have ratified the Convention). The first Committee will be elected at the initial meeting of the General Assembly and will hold its first meeting next September.
Throughout the world, the intangible cultural heritage is threatened with decline, and even with extinction. While waiting for the entry into force of the Convention, UNESCO has, since 2001, been involved in short-term action. Thus, three Proclamations of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity – in 2001, 2003 and 2005 - have designated a total of 90 masterpieces from 107 countries. Twenty-seven of them have already benefited from UNESCO support for the implementation of action plans for their safeguarding.
The Intergovernmental Committee will include, according to a process yet to be determined, the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity into the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity established by the new Convention, provided they be found on the territory of a State Party to the Convention.
*Only those States that have deposited their instruments of ratification at UNESCO before 30 March may take part in the first meeting.
Official text of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage