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UNESCO's Culture-related Conventions and Declarations

Legal instruments enable States to better protect all forms of culture. UNESCO presents them in the form of declarations, recommendations and conventions.  These instruments are then adopted by UNESCO's Member States. We have highlighted a few of the many UNESCO legal instruments. 

For a complete list of UNESCO's Culture-related legal instruments, please click HERE

Convention for the Protection of Culture Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954) 

The Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict adopted at The Hague (Netherlands) in 1954, as a consequence to the massive destruction of the cultural heritage in the Second World War, is the first international treaty of a world-wide vocation dedicated exclusively to the protection of cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict.  The destruction of cultural property in the course of the conflicts that took place at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, highlighted the necessity for a number of improvements to be addressed in the implementation of the Hague Convention. A review of the Convention was initiated in 1991, resulting in the adoption of a Second Protocol to the Hague Convention in March 1999.

Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970)

The increase in pillaging, theft and illicit export of cultural property is proof that the legislation of the originating States in this area, no matter how detailed and well thought-out, is not sufficient in itself to stop this traffic. In addition, once the object has left the national territory, this international movement, often combined with the purchase of the object in another country, or the fact that the object remains in the importing country for a considerable time, multiplies the obstacles to restitution of these objects. These include legal obstacles, depending on the content of the applicable laws, and even sometimes political obstacles, depending on the nature of the object and the interest the States concerned have with regard to the object. Once the object has been identified and found outside its country of origin, international co-operation is indispensable. This is why the international community has set up an entire legal and ethical arsenal to fight illicit traffic in cultural property, both through prevention (adequate legislation and updated inventories with photographs of the objects) and solutions, by facilitating restitution.

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

Link: The most significant feature of the Convention is to link together in a single document the concepts of nature conservation and the preservation of cultural sites. Nature and culture are complementary and cultural identity is strongly related to the natural environment in which it develops. To date, more than 170 countries have adhered to the Convention, making it one of the most universal international legal instruments for the protection of the cultural and natural heritage.

Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001)

The Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage is an
international legal instrument, of general application, drafted with a view to ensuring a high level of protection of the underwater cultural heritage. By ratifying the Convention, the States Parties adopt (and benefit from similar measures taken by other States Parties) the necessary measures to preserve the underwater cultural heritage in the interest of humanity, employing to that end the most appropriate means at their disposal and in accordance with their respective capacities.

Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001)

Link: The UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity was adopted unanimously by the General Conference at its 31st session on 2 November 2001.  The Declaration was born of the wish of the Member States to define a standard-setting instrument, in the context of Globalization, for the elaboration of their national cultural policies, while respecting international rules and fundamental rights. It is the first time the International community has possessed a legal instrument which raises cultural diversity to the rank of“common heritage of humanity”.

The Declaration sets out to respond to 2 major concerns: firstly, to ensure respect for cultural identities with the participation of all peoples in a democratic framework and, secondly, to contribute to the emergence of a favourable climate for the creativity of all, thereby making culture a factor of development.

Convention on the Protection of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003)

This new Convention, the fifth of its kind adopted by the Organization for the protection of the cultural heritage, is designed to bind the States Parties to take the necessary measures, including, for instance, identification, in order to ensure the safeguarding of the international cultural heritage and to strengthen solidarity and cooperation at regional and international levels in this field. The Convention is intended to encourage, inter alia, the exchange of information, experiences and joint initiatives to this end.

Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005)

The Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions adopted on 20 October 2005 by the UNESCO General Conference is a binding international legal instrument. Its goal is to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions, particularly as embodied and conveyed in cultural activities, goods, and services, which are the vehicles of contemporary culture. It sets out to create a legal framework favourable to all with regard to the production, distribution, dissemination, access to and enjoyment of a wide range of cultural expressions of diverse origin.

An extensive list of legal instruments in the field of culture is available here.