The Nubia Campaign and the World Heritage Convention

In 1959, the construction of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt resulted in the flooding of an extensive stretch of the Nile Valley, home to ancient Nubian treasures. Mindful that the threatened temples were a priority transcending national interests, UNESCO launched its first international safeguarding campaign in cooperation with the Egyptian and Sudanese governments. Primarily concerned with Abu Simbel and Philae temples, the campaign lasted 20 years. Twenty-two monuments were relocated and reassembled and 40 missions from the five continents provided assistance. UNESCO’s action made people appreciate the universal value of cultural heritage and set a precedent for international cooperation to protect it.

The campaign inspired the adoption in 1972 of UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention and the inscription of sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The Convention defines the natural, cultural or mixed heritage of outstanding universal value to be considered for inscription. One of its most significant features is that it links together nature conservation and the preservation of cultural heritage through community involvement. The List now counts 1,154 properties in 167 States Parties, some of which are transnational. Inscription of these sites are often the result of cooperation between Member States, as with Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System, an extensive Inca network of roads across the Andes, shared between six countries.
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The Protection and Promotion of Cultural Diversity

The cultural and creative industries are among the fastest growing sectors in the world. They have become essential for inclusive economic growth and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

UNESCO’s adoption of the 2005 Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions was a milestone in international cultural policy: the global community formally recognized the dual nature, both cultural and economic, of contemporary cultural expressions produced by artists and cultural professionals.

UNESCO assists Parties to the Convention to develop dynamic creative sectors through technical assistance, policy advice, training and consultations. With European Union funding, the UNESCO Office in Juba is supporting South Sudan to develop its first ever copyright legislation, while the UNESCO Office in Havana is working on the Transcultura project to strengthen cooperation within 17 Caribbean countries and with the European Union. With funding from the Republic of Korea and Japan, the UNESCO Offices in Almaty, Bangkok, Hanoi and Jakarta are supporting Asian countries in developing their film industries. Furthermore, every year, the International Fund for Cultural Diversity provides direct funding for new projects in developing countries.

To respond to the profound impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNESCO launched the ResiliArt movement and global discussions with key industry professionals, while capturing experiences and voices of resilience from artists on social media. With funding from Norway, UNESCO relaunched the UNESCO-Aschberg programme to develop status of the artist legislation that includes their social protection. UNESCO also launched the tracker ‘Culture & COVID-19: Impact and Response’ on the pandemic’s impact on the cultural sector and the measures taken by Member States in response.
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Preserving and promoting the world’s linguistic diversity

Languages are a core component of human rights as well as repositories of unique traditions, values and knowledge. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the approximately 8,000 world’s languages are at risk of falling into desuetude at an alarming rate. UNESCO published the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing in 1996, 2001 and 2010, which partly contributed to an unprecedented expansion in the study of endangered languages and a rise in media interest. In 2018, UNESCO launched a global survey towards data collection from official sources on the languages spoken and signed across the planet, for the launch of the online platform World Atlas of Languages. The UNESCO World Report on Languages summarizes its methodological framework and outcomes.

The UN General Assembly proclaimed 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages. 800 events raised awareness of the situation and mobilized stakeholders. Building on the momentum generated, the UNGA declared the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022–2032) and requested UNESCO to serve as lead agency. The need for action to tackle global challenges is even more urgent with the upsurge of the COVID-19 pandemic, as communities using non dominant languages are left behind in terms of the limited access to public services, tools and resources in languages they understand best. To counter the acceleration of language loss due to the pandemic, UNESCO regularly gathers and disseminates online resources to ensure access to health information in indigenous languages.

The UNESCO Office in Mexico collaborates on initiatives to preserve linguistic heritage in Mexico, a country with 68 indigenous languages. One is a public call for participants to share words in indigenous languages which are ‘untranslatable’ in Spanish along with an explanatory text and information on the word’s cultural relevance.
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Prohibiting and preventing the illicit trafficking of cultural property

In the 1950s, there were growing calls to address the looting of archaeological sites and the dismantling of monuments. The subject had already been discussed in the 1930s and had resulted in a draft treaty by the League of Nations. However, the issue of illicit trafficking in cultural property gained momentum with the emergence of young States anxious to recover the elements of their cultural heritage.

The Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property was adopted by UNESCO in 1970. The signatory States began to approve measures within their territories, including the creation of inventories and specialized police units, to control the illicit circulation of cultural goods and return stolen property.

Since then, UNESCO has raised awareness of the issue, helped countries develop laws and preventive measures, created an international network of police and customs officials and auction houses, and encouraged the restitution of cultural property illegally removed from its territory. In 2021, for example, the UNESCO Office in Kingston trained Jamaican border agencies on the diversity and significance of cultural property, as well as on strategies and tools to combat these activities. UNESCO celebrated a significant victory in the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural objects in 2021 when the Gilgamesh tablet, one of the oldest literary works in history, was formally handed back to Iraq by the United States of America.
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