2014 Seminars - Dr Claus Peter Echter

World Heritage Cultural Properties and Preventive Monitoring

Dr. Claus-Peter Echter
Member of the Bureau of ICOMOS SBH - Germany



1. ICOMOS and Preventive Monitoring

One of the most important tasks of ICOMOS within the framework of the World Heritage Convention of 1972 is the work as an advisory body to the World Heritage Committee and UNESCO, in particular the evaluation of monuments and historical sites which are inscribed in the World Heritage List or eligible for inscription.The mandate and the role of ICOMOS as an advisory body result from articles 8 (3), 13 (7) and 14 (2) of the World Heritage Convention in connection with the Paragraphs 30, 31 and 35 of Operational Guidelines (OG). The specific role of ICOMOS in relation to the Convention is described in Paragraph 35 and "includes: evaluation of properties nominated for inscription on the World Heritage List, monitoring the state of conservation of World Heritage cultural properties, reviewing requests for International Assistance submitted by States Parties, and providing input and support for capacity building activities."

Just as article 5 of the World Heritage Convention commits the States Parties to take care of the protection and conservation of the entire cultural and natural heritage within their territories and not only of the individual World Heritage sites, the National Committees of ICOMOS have also a special responsibility for the historic buildings and sites of their country, of course in close cooperation with all institutions that deal with protection and conservation. Under these circumstances, based on the different experiences countries individual ICOMOS National Committees have developed special initiatives for the monitoring of the state of conservation of world heritage sites in their countries. Furthermore in the ICOMOS World Report Heritage at Risk, which has been published since the year 2000 they have pointed out the imminent dangers for monuments ensembles. All in all, it is about a programme of continuous observation that can be called Proactive or Preventive Monitoring. It is beeing further developed by Gustave Araoz, President of ICOMOS International, within the framework of the Global Monitoring Initiative. Thic concept of Preventive Monitoring refers not only to indidual World Heritage sites but to the entire cultural heritage: ICOMOS acts a sort of general "monument watch" observing the state of the historic buildings and sites worldwide.

The obligation of the States Parties to do Periodic Reporting results from article 9 of the World Heritage Convention, together with chapter V of the Operational Guidelines[1]. Indepently of the Periodic Reporting the World Heritage Centre is to be informed within the framework of the Reactive Monitoring (OG §§ 169-176) about exceptional circumstances or work actions which hat could affect the Outstanding Universal Value of a World Heritage Site.[2]

Reactive Monitoring is according to the Operational Guidelines “the reporting ... on the state of conservation of specific World Heritage properties that are under threat. To this end, the States Parties shall submit ... to the Committee through the Secretariat, specific reports  and impact studies each time exceptional circumstance occur or work is undertaken which may have an effect on the state of conservation of the property.”[3]

The Reactive Monitoring requires in serious cases, a panel of experts and can lead, –  as in the previously rather unique case of Dresdner Waldschlösschenbrücke – to deletion from the World Heritage List. In the conservation status of each World Heritage Site, however minor or major problems and threats can arise, which are not detected in time by the competent authorities. In particular, in extensive world heritage sites such as city ensembles, cultural landscapes or cultural routes, values that define the World Heritage can be affected by an immense number of plans and projects. This concerns an abundance of sometimes highly acute threats to the historic structures, that went unheeded in the Periodic Monitoring carried out in intervals of some years and also can hardly be resolved in time in the context of a Reactive Monitoring. [4]

Regarding the Periodic Reporting on the implementation of the World Heritage Convention[5] the guidelines postulate: “States Parties are

[1]OG §§ 199-210

[2]OG §§ 169-176

[3]OG §169

[4]Cf. Preventive Monitoring Erläuterungen – Preventive Monitoring als Aufgabe von ICOMOS: www. icomos.de 

[5]OG §§ 199-210


requested to submit reports ... on the legislative and administrative provisions they have adopted ... including the state of conservation of the World Heritage properties located on their territories.”[1] The purpose of Periodic Reporting is to provide an assessment as to whether the Outstanding Value of the properties inscribed on the World Heritage List is beeing maintained over time and to provide up-dated information about these properties to record the changing circumstances and state of conservation of these sites.[2]

However practice has shown, that the handling of the monitoring mandate in accordance with Periodic Reporting and especially Reactive Monitoring  do not always have the desired results, especially in acute problematic cases, where “the whole procedure proved to be too slow. ... Therefore in this wide area of conservation problems a continous proactive observation  has to take place, i.e. Preventive Monitoring, which takes into consideration the more general conservation concerns and the special criteria of the World Heritage justifying the Outstanding Universal Value. As far as the World Cultural Heritage is concerned, this task could only be tackled by the advisory body ICOMOS  and its worldwide net of members organised in more than 150 national and international committees. The corresponding mandate can be deduced from the above mentioned articles of the World Heritage Convention together with the mandate to be found”[3] in § 31d of the Operational Guidelines “to monitor the state of conservation of World Heritage properties”[4]

[1]OG § 199

[2]Cf OG § 201

[3]Petzet,  pp. 38 ff.

[4]OG §31d

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