UNESCO’s first programmes in the field of culture reflected the political and social situation of the world in a postwar and decolonisation period. Considering the Organization’s mandate to contribute to peace through education, science and culture, attention was focused on promoting international cooperation in the field of the arts and on studying the way of recognizing the variety of cultural identities of the world. Several actions were taken related to traditional cultural domains such as literature, museums, music and languages.

In 1946 the International Council of Museums (ICOM) was founded, followed in 1949 by the International Music Council (IMC). The first volume of the Index Translationum was published in 1949, while the first worries concerning artistic production were discussed in a conference in 1952 in Venice. This meeting led to the adoption of the Universal Copyright Convention, which came into force in 1955 and was subsequently revised in 1971. As a result of increased awareness on the need to protect built heritage in time of war, following the devastating consequences of the Second World War, the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Properties in the Event of Armed Conflict was adopted in The Hague, the Netherlands, in 1954. This convention introduced the expression of ‘cultural property’ as a comprehensiveand homogenous category of objects considered worthy of protection due to their unique cultural value. The term would also be used later in the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970), to which the Hague Convention, and its 1999 Second Protocol are complementary.

Already in 1953, UNESCO published the first volume of a new series entitled ‘Unity and Diversity of Cultures’, which was drawn up from a survey on the current conception of the specific cultures of different peoples and mutual relations between those cultures. The aim of the publication was to offer an insight into the world’s different cultures and their mutual relations. This would be followed by a project on ‘Mutual Appreciation of Eastern and Western Culture’, launched in 1957, which would last for nine years. In 1966, the General Conference adopted the well-known Declaration on the Principles of International Cultural Cooperation. The Declaration established the essential features of UNESCO’s international cooperation policies in the field of culture by stating that each culture has a dignity and value which must be respected and preserved, and that every people has the right and duty to develop its culture and that all cultures form part of the common heritage belonging to all mankind, giving the basis for thefurther development of cultural heritage policies within UNESCO. Although the Declaration did most likely not use the concept of heritage in its legal sense, the expression ‘heritage of mankind’ became a key element of the Organization’s policies in the field of cultural heritage.

Beginning of restructuring works, Ramses II, statues
© UNESCO / Nenadovic

The need for policies aiming at developing the concept of ‘heritage of mankind’, at least for tangible heritage, was strongly felt following the Nubia campaign in Egypt, launched in 1960, which was the most striking example of a successful exercise in alerting international public opinion in favour of a safeguarding operation. Two years later the Abu Simbel temples, reconstructed 64 metres above their original site, were officially unveiled. Another activity aimed at protecting monumental cultural heritage was the Campaign for safeguarding Venice, launched in 1962, or the adoption on 19 November 1968 by the General Conference of the Recommendation concerning the Preservation of Cultural Property Endangered by Public or Private Works, followed in 1970 by the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

Most certainly these legal-effect campaigns and actions raised awareness about the role that culture plays in economic development.
Against a political background of decolonization and the Cold War, an Intergovernmental Conference on the Institutional, Administrative and Financial Aspects of Culture was convened in Venice, Italy, from 24 August to 2 September 1970. This conference marked the emergence of the notions of ‘cultural development’ and of the ‘cultural dimension of development’, and stimulated discussion on how cultural policies could be integrated into development strategies. The conference affirmed that the diversity of national cultures, their uniqueness and originality are an essential basis for human progress and the development of world culture. It realised that indigenous cultures in many countries were threatened because, for lack of resources, training institutes and trained personnel, very little was being done to preserve their cultural heritage. The basis for cooperation with non-governmental organizations in the field of culture was thereby established by stating that Member States should associate nongovernmental organizations as closely as possible with the elaboration and implementation of their cultural policies.

In addition to its action in the fields of copyright and protection of cultural properties, as referred to in the conventions of 1952, 1954 and 1970, UNESCO was also ready to promote heritage and cultural industries policies as a positive means for development in all Member States regardless of their degree of development.

In 1972, UNESCO adopted a ten-year plan for the study of African oral traditions and the promotion of African Languages, the first Festival of the Arts of the Pacific was held in Fiji and two series of cultural studies on Latin America were launched. The concept of cultural heritage was not yet strictly restricted to the tangible field. However, on the basis of the 1966 Declaration, the success of the Nubia campaign and the principles established in Venice in 1970 the most important action undertaken by UNESCO in 1972 was the adoption of the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. This Convention, which is probably the most universal legislative instrument in the field of cultural heritage today, strengthened the identification of cultural heritage as tangible heritage since it limits its scope to monuments, groups of buildings and sites, all instances of tangible heritage. Like the Hague Convention, it focuses on immovable cultural property – in this case, of outstanding universal value – but it also introduces the notion of ‘heritage of mankind’. With its programmatic approach, based on a listing system and the use of revisable operational guidelines for its implementation, the 1972 Convention strengthened heritage conservation policies, and became the standard reference for including conservation policies as a means of development, largely through tourism.

Since legal aspects of collective intellectual property rights were not yet clearly defined, it was decided not to include intangible cultural heritage expressions under the scope of the 1972 Convention. Therefore, the Government of Bolivia proposed in 1973 to add a Protocol to the abovementioned Universal Copyright Convention as revised in 1971, in order to provide a legal framework for the protection of folklore. The proposal was not accepted but one year later, a governmental experts meeting, organized with the assistance of UNESCO and WIPO in Tunis, started working on the draft of a model law referring to the protection of intellectual property rights applicable to such cultural manifestations.

In the meantime, as follow-up to the Venice Conference of 1970, several regional seminars were organized. In one of these meetings, the Accra Intergovernmental Conference on Cultural Policies in Africa (1977), experts advocated that the definition of culture be extended beyond fine arts and heritage to include worldviews, value systems and beliefs. A year later, the ‘Bogotá Declaration’, adopted by the Intergovernmental Conference on Cultural Policies in Latin America and the Caribbean, stressed that cultural development had to improve the quality of life of communities and individuals. It also stated that cultural authenticity is based on recognition of the components of cultural identity, whatever their geographic origin and however they have mingled, and that every people or group of peoples has both the right and the duty to determine independently its own cultural identity, based on its historical antecedents, its individual values and aspirations, and its sovereign will.