The 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (the World Heritage Convention)

The World Heritage Convention encourages the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. It:

  • sets out the duties of States Parties in identifying potential World Heritage sites situated on their territory and
  • identifies their role in protecting and preserving them.
  • encourages State Parties to integrate the protection of the cultural and natural heritage into regional planning programmes,
  • encourages State Parties to set up staff and services at their sites, and to undertake scientific and technical conservation research
  • encourages State Parties to adopt measures which give this heritage a function in the day-to-day life of the community.

The Convention also lays out a management framework of oversight by and support from the World Heritage Committee.

Sites which are at risk from conflict, illegal development, or other threats can be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger. Additional financial and management support can be provided by the World Heritage Committee to those who are trying to protect the sites. Although it is extremely rare, a site can be removed from the World Heritage list if the threats increase and are not reduced.

Photo of a banner with the UNESCO name and symbol, the name of the site, and black mourning ribbons

Dresden Elbe Valley

former World Heritage site

Mourning ribbons hang from the World Heritage flag,

two days after UNESCO delisted Dresden Elbe Valley.

© Photo by LogoX, CC BY-SA 3.0, from Wikimedia Commons

It is notable that the provisions of the World Heritage Convention clearly operate in both peacetime and during armed conflict. State Parties are required to take measure to protect their World Heritage, and Article 6.3 also calls on them:

stylized image of white balanced scales on a circular royal blue background

not to take any deliberate measures which might damage directly or indirectly the cultural and natural heritage referred to in Articles 1 and 2 situated on the territory of other States Parties to this Convention.

World Heritage is often equated with the concept of “cultural property of the greatest importance for humanity” in the 1999 Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. To date, only World Heritage sites have been inscribed on the list for Enhanced Protection, although there are strong arguments for inscribing other sites. (Read more about Enhanced Protection).

World Heritage is indicated by a distinctive emblem.

Black line diagram emblem of a diamond in a circle encircled by "World Heritage" in English, French and Spanish

The emblem’s use is strictly regulated and determined by the World Heritage Committee, with guidelines for its use defined in Chapter VIII and Annex 14 of the Operational Guidelines. It is protected under the international World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Act.

The emblem, Operational Guidelines and conditions of use are available on UNESCOs website.

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