What is a World Heritage Site?
1. Shared Treasures of Humanity
World Heritage Sites are precious treasures, formed by the creative forces of the earth or by the historic acts of humankind, and passed down to us from the past. They range from cultural treasures to natural environments and are a source of great pride for people living in a variety of countries and regions across the world.
Sites include those which record the cruelty of human history, as well as those which are threatened by war, natural disasters, or environmental pollution. World Heritage Sites are shared by everyone living in the world today, without regard to borders, and should protected by way of international cooperation, to be passed down to future generations.
2. UNESCO and World Heritage Sites
UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, headquartered in Paris, France) is a specialist organization of the United Nations. The cooperating authority for UNESCO in Japan is the Japanese National Commission for UNESCO (within the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology)
Based on the World Heritage Convention, the UNESCO World Heritage Center works to build a framework of international cooperation in order to maintain future protection for cultural heritage sites and natural heritage sites of outstanding and universal value, calling on each country to become party to the World Heritage Convention and to protect World Heritage sites. In addition, it encourages states parties to the Convention to promote the inscription of sites on the World Heritage List, and constructs systems to report on the conservation and management status of registered World Heritage sites. In addition, by supporting technological cooperation and specialist training, it assists states in smoothly running the protection, conservation, and management of World Heritage sites. In particular, it arranges for emergency aid to sites identified as “World Heritage in Danger.”
3.The World Heritage Convention
Officially named the ‘Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage’, this convention proclaims the importance of protecting the world’s cultural and natural heritage sites of outstanding and universal value, as common treasures of humankind, and of passing them on to generations to come. Adopted at the UNESCO General Assembly of 1972, it had 184 states parties as of October 2006. Japan stepped onto the global stage by becoming party to the Convention in 1992, as the 125th country to do so. The World Heritage Convention also establishes the World Heritage Committee, which manages the World Heritage List and supports the protection of registered heritage sites.
4. The World Heritage Committee
The World Heritage Committee is organized according to the World Heritage Convention, and is composed of representatives from 21 states parties to the Convention, balanced with regard to region and culture. Terms on the Committee generally last six years, with elections held at the World Heritage Convention General Assembly of States Parties every two years. Japan served on the Committee from 2003 on. However, as in recent years the number of countries standing for election has increased, some countries voluntarily shorten their terms of service, and Japan’s first term came to a close in 2007.
Japan was later reelected once more as committee member with a term from 2011 till 2015. The World Heritage Committee generally meets once a year, discussing and deciding on new items to be registered as World Heritage sites and those to be expanded, addition and removal from the “World Heritage in Danger” list, monitoring and technological support for registered sites, and usage of the World Heritage Fund.
5. Types of World Heritage Sites
World Heritage sites are divided into the following three types, and need to be tangible properties.
- Cultural Heritage
- Monuments, groups of buildings, sites, cultural landscapes, etc. of outstanding universal value
- Natural Heritage
- Physiographical and geological formations, physical and biological formations, areas which constitute the habitat of threatened species of animals and plants, etc. of outstanding universal value
- Mixed Heritage
- Properties which satisfy the definitions of cultural and natural heritage
As of August 2010, the List of World Heritage Sites by type included 704 cultural, 181 natural, and 26 mixed heritage sites (a total of 911)