World Heritage Sites are monuments and historic buildings that are so important to the global community that they must be passed on safely to future generations. They may be cultural or natural monuments, or a combination of both. Only sites that have been entered in UNESCO’s World Heritage List may be referred to as World Heritage Sites. UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
World Heritage List
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has been compiling the World Heritage List since 1972, on the basis of nominations by member countries. The World Heritage Convention has been ratified by 191 UNESCO member countries. The Kingdom of the Netherlands signed the Convention in 1992, thereby undertaking to identify, protect and preserve potential world heritage sites within its territory. Since July 2015 the World Heritage List has comprised 1031 items in 163 countries, ten of them in the Netherlands.
Every country that has signed the Convention may nominate one or more items for the international list, provided it has the support of other countries. The item in question must first be placed on a national ‘Tentative List’ before it can be nominated for the UNESCO list. In the Netherlands a special committee advises on what items of heritage to include in the Tentative List, and the government decides what heritage sites the country will nominate for the World Heritage List. The World Heritage Committee meets once a year to vote on whether the nominated sites should be added to the World Heritage List.
The State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science is responsible for the Netherlands’ world cultural heritage. The Minister for the Environment is responsible for world natural heritage sites. Together, they determine Dutch world heritage policy.
The Cultural Heritage Agency implements the Netherlands’ world heritage policy by:
- compiling preparatory dossiers and coordinating management plans
- working with parties that manage World Heritage Sites
- informing the public, in collaboration with Stichting Werelderfgoed.nl
- liaising with the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in Paris
Significance of World Heritage status
Inclusion in the World Heritage List is above all a sign of international recognition. It is good for tourism and the country’s economy. But this status also brings with it certain responsibilities. For example, every six years countries must report to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee on what they have done to implement the World Heritage Convention. They must also notify the Committee in respect of every World Heritage Site:
- its current condition
- what the country has done to preserve its outstanding universal value
List of World Heritage in Danger
The World Heritage Commission may designate a poorly maintained monument or historic building as ‘World Heritage in Danger’. If a country fails to care for its world heritage sites properly, they will end up on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The country in question will then be obliged to show every year what it has done to improve the condition of its World Heritage in Danger. If it does not make any improvements, the site may be removed from the World Heritage List. World heritage is at risk not only from neglect, but also from war, earthquakes and other natural disasters. The List of World Heritage in Danger is intended as an incentive to preserve the heritage. The World Heritage Committee has a special fund to help World Heritage in Danger.
Survey of support and appreciation
Our World Heritage Sites tell the story of water management, civil society and design (including urban design) in the Netherlands. The RCE’s Heritage and Land Use Strategy programme, being implemented from 2012 to 2016, is designed among other things to increase awareness and appreciation of and support for the country’s World Heritage among the general public. As part of this programme, the RCE commissioned Bureau Veldkamp to conduct a baseline survey among the Dutch public to assess the situation at the start of the programme. A second survey, likely to be carried out in 2016, will give an indication of the programme’s effectiveness.
Other ways UNESCO protects the heritage
The UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage came into force in 2003; it was ratified by the Netherlands in 2012. The organisation has compiled a list of the intangible cultural heritage entitled Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The Netherlands has yet to put forward any nominations for this list.
UNESCO has also established a world heritage list for the protection of valuable archives, library collections and individual works. Its Memory of the World Register was established in 1992 as part of a programme of the same name. The Netherlands has 11 heritage entries on this list, three of which are shared with other countries.
The Netherlands has not yet signed the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, which was adopted in 2001. It has however committed to the annex to the convention, which sets out rules for dealing with the underwater heritage.