The Context of the Rules

The “Rules concerning activities directed at underwater cultural heritage” contain practical standards and ethical directives for archaeological work. They regulate the preparation of an archaeological project, the competences and qualifications of professionals undertaking interventions, the funding and the documentation of the work undertaken.

The 36 rules set out regulations for the responsible management of submerged heritage, be it located in maritime or in inland waters. They present a directly applicable operation scheme and are a major reference document in the field of underwater archaeology.

These Rules form an integral part of a broader legal instrument, the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001). This confers a special legal status to them. Any State that ratifies the Convention also becomes legally bound by the Rules. States which are not State Parties to the Convention may, however, also declare to respect them as best practice.

Sections:

Show all / Hide all

fold faq

Legal context

 

The “Rules concerning activities directed at underwater cultural heritage” contain practical standards and ethical directives for archaeological work. They regulate the preparation of an archaeological project, the competences and qualifications of professionals undertaking interventions, the funding and the documentation of the work undertaken.

The 36 rules set out regulations for the responsible management of submerged heritage, be it located in the ocean or in inland waters. They present a directly applicable operation scheme and are a major reference document in the field of underwater archaeology.

These Rules form an integral part of a broader legal instrument, the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001). This confers a special legal status to them. Any State that ratifies the Convention also becomes legally bound by the Rules. State Parties are obliged to adapt their national legislation to them. States which are not State Parties to the Convention may, however, also declare to respect them as best practice.


fold faq

Historic Development of the Rules

 

Since 1956, UNESCO’s “Recommendation on International Principles Applicable to Archaeological Excavations” has applied to underwater sites situated in territorial waters. However, there remained an urgent need for securing the protection of cultural heritage located in international waters with a wider-reaching legal instrument. The Council of Europe had examined the issue since 1976, but it was not until 1994 that a draft of the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage was adopted by the International Law Association (ILA) in Buenos Aires. Two years later, the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) met in Sofia and adopted the “International Charter on the Protection and Management of the Underwater Cultural Heritage”.

Both texts, the ILA draft and the ICOMOS Charter, had nonetheless no binding nature and only a repercussive effect on national legislations, as ILA and ICOMOS are professional associations  , and not intergovernmental entities. Their texts were in consequence not open for adherence by States.

Understanding the urgency of the situation, UNESCO assumed the responsibility for creating a binding legal instrument based on the consideration of the ILA draft and the ICOMOS Charter. UNESCO’s General Conference therefore decided in 1997, at its 29th session, that an international convention should be elaborated and a group of governmental experts was convened. From 1998 until 2001, the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage was elaborated and finally adopted as one of a body of UNESCO conventions aimed at safeguarding cultural heritage. The principles of the ICOMOS Charter were incorporated in the Annex of the Convention.

The Convention enables States to effectively protect and preserve underwater cultural heritage and provides it the same universal protection usually accorded to cultural heritage on land.

While many issues were subject to complex discussions during the elaboration process (in particular those that dealt with the law of the sea), one part of the draft Convention found quasi immediate and unanimous acceptance by the representatives of governments: the Rules concerning activities directed at underwater cultural heritage placed in the Annex of the Convention. Addressing ethical and professional standards for underwater archaeology, they have become a major reference for this discipline.

fold faq

UNESCO and the 2001 Convention

 

UNESCO

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations. It has 193 Member States and six Associate Members. The protection of cultural heritage is inscribed in its mandate under its constitution. It achieves its goals, among others, through the elaboration of legal texts, in particular Conventions, for adherence by its Members.

The 2001 Convention

A Convention is an agreement concluded between States in written form and governed by international law. It imposes binding legal obligations on its Parties.

The Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage was elaborated by several intergovernmental expert meetings and then adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO in 2001 at its 31st session. It is open for ratification by all States and even certain territories. It does not regulate the ownership of submerged heritage, but ensures its safeguarding.

Ratification

Ratification means that a State, wishing to become a party, expresses its consent to be bound by the Convention at the international level, thus becoming a State Party. It will harmonize its national legislation in conformity with the Convention and comply with it. When a very large number of States ratifies a Convention, its regulations may become customary law, under certain conditions, and may also bind States which are not party to it, in the event that they do not expressly object.

Back to top