Involvement of tradition bearers and practitioners

Inventories are drawn up to ensure identification with a view to safeguarding the ICH of communities and groups. From Article 11, which obliges each State to ensure the participation of communities, groups and relevant non-governmental organizations when identifying and defining the various elements of the ICH, it seems to follow that communities, groups and – where applicable – individuals are to be involved when their ICH is to be identified through an inventorying process. Article 2.1 of the Convention points in the same direction, when it defines as ICH practices, representations that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage.

In this context it is also useful to refer to Article 13 (d)(ii) of the Convention which wishes each State Party to adopt appropriate measures aimed at ensuring access to the ICH while respecting customary practices governing specific aspects of such heritage. Respecting such practices might mean that some ICH should not be inventoried, or that some ITH featured in inventories can be made public only under certain restrictions.

In March 2005, UNESCO organized an expert meeting on Intangible Cultural Heritage inventory making at which the experts presented national approaches of their countries to inventory making. Although some States (for instance Brazil No info on CP, the Philippines No info on CP, South Africa No CP, and Venezuela No CP) already and intensively involved communities of tradition bearers, it became obvious that many of the systems that were presented had been developed without significant community involvement. These systems were often created by organizations or experts that were external to the communities concerned, and for reasons other than for ensuring viability of the ICH.

Community involvement in inventorying ICH, was discussed at another expert meeting, organized in Tokyo in March 2006. The experts at that meeting acknowledged that inventorying should be at the same time a top-down and bottom-up process. They explored the ways in which States Parties could satisfy the requirement of the participation of communities, groups, and NGOs, and discussed the involvement of non-community members. They recommended that procedures be established for:

  • proper identification of communities/groups and their representatives;
  • ensuring that only ICH that is recognised by communities and groups is inventoried;
  • ensuring that the permission of communities and groups is obtained for inventorying;
  • ensuring the prior consent of communities when involving non-community members;
  • respecting customary practices governing access to ICH;
  • actively involving local or regional administrative levels;
  • adopting and following a code of ethics that should take into account the lessons learnt from best practices worldwide.


Inventories are to be drawn up to ensure identification with a view to safeguarding (Article 12), “safeguarding” meaning measures aimed at ensuring the viability of the ICH (Article 2.3). Since inventory making ultimately envisages safeguarding, a minimum requirement might be that the viability of the inventoried elements be indicated and – if appropriate – factors threatening that viability. The systems under elaboration in Brazil No info on CP and Colombia No CP, for instance, are conceived in this spirit. Bhutan, Bulgaria and Lithuania (no mention of risk of disappearance in last case) even use the risk of disappearance as a parameter for inscription in their systems.

Many systems developed so far, were not designed to serve safeguarding purposes in the sense of the 2003 Convention. This goes, in fact, for all inventories (catalogues, etc.) that were started until recently. Many older inventories rather present overviews designed by researchers for purposes sought by researchers. Some older inventories are reported to have been produced under conditions of colonialism or forced state-building that determined their goals and approaches.


The inventories probably need to be as complete as possible: Article 12 speaks about one or more inventories of the ICH present in its territory, where the use of the article the seems to imply that the totality of the ICH present in a country is to be covered. The language used in Article 11 (b) which speaks about the obligation of each State Party to identify and define the various elements of the ICH present in its territory, might point in a similar direction. For States that can boast huge cultural diversity while distinguishing large numbers of communities, this will be an almost impossible task: in view of the vast domains covered by the 2003 Convention, and taking into account the evolving character of ICH, inventories are likely never to be complete, or – for that matter – fully updated.

It goes without saying that it cannot be expected that new States Parties to the Convention will be in a position to draw up more or less complete inventories at any short notice, let alone that they possess such inventories when becoming a State Party. On the contrary, according to Article 20 of the Convention, international assistance may be granted to States Parties to the Convention for, among other things, the preparation of inventories in the sense of Article 11 and Article 12. It is not yet known whether the Committee will wish to give indications for a time frame within which States Parties should meet obligations concerning the preparation of inventories.

A related, frequently asked question is whether States Parties can start receiving international assistance, or filing nominations for listing on the Representative List, before having completed one or more inventories. The language used by the Convention does not impose such a condition. In this context it should be noted that at one of the expert meetings it was suggested that elements proposed to the Committee for incorporation in the Representative List of the ICH of Humanity, should previously have been taken up in a or in the national inventory, which – for that matter - does need to be complete.


The inventories have to be regularly updated (Article 12). In the domain of ICH frequent updating seems to be imperative in view of the evolving character of ICH – and of communities - and of possible sudden changes in degrees of endangerment. Some inventories that were reported on during expert meetings, list elements that no longer exist; many inventories contain elements that were inserted a long time ago. Their actual status may be quite different than 50 or 100 years ago. Article 12.2 stipulates that States Parties shall periodically provide relevant information on their inventories; it stands to reason that reporting on the process of regular updating forms part of the information that will be expected.