Frequently Asked Questions

What are the responsibilities of States that ratify the Convention?

At the national level, States Parties must: define and inventory intangible cultural heritage with the participation of the communities concerned; adopt policies and establish institutions to monitor and promote it; encourage research; and take other appropriate safeguarding measures, always with the full consent and participation of the communities concerned.

Six years after ratifying the Convention and every sixth year after that, each State Party must submit a report to the Committee about the measures it has taken to implement the Convention at the national level, in which they must report the current state of all elements present on their territory and inscribed on the Representative List.
States are also invited to propose elements to the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding and the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, as well as safeguarding programmes for the Register of Best Safeguarding Practices. States also have the possibility of asking for International Assistance from the Fund for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. The resources of this fund consist of contributions made by States Parties.

States Parties submit reports to the Committee on the status of elements inscribed on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding the fourth year following the year in which the element was inscribed, and every fourth year after that. States Parties beneficiaries of international assistance shall also submit a report on the use made of the assistance provided.

Such reports, including reports on measures taken to implement the Convention, are submitted to the eleventh session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (see items 9.a, 9.b and 9.c of the Agenda).

Only States Parties to the Convention may submit nominations, but they have an obligation to ensure the widest possible participation of the communities in elaborating the nomination files and safeguarding measures. They must also obtain the free, prior and informed consent of these communities to submit a file. Nominations or requests for international assistance made by several States are strongly encouraged, as many elements of intangible cultural heritage are present in several territories and practised by a community established in several countries, contiguous or not.

For more information on periodic reports

What is the difference between the 1972 World Heritage Convention, the 2003 Convention for Intangible Cultural Heritage and the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions?

The 1972 Convention deals with tangible heritage: monuments, as well as cultural and natural sites. Among other things, the heritage must be of outstanding universal value and of authentic character. Experts and site managers are key actors for identification and protection.

The 2005 Convention aims to provide artists, culture professionals, practitioners and citizens of the world with the possibility to create, produce, promote and enjoy a wide range of cultural goods, services and activities.
The 2003 Convention comes at the intersection of these conventions. Its aim is to safeguard a specific form of (intangible) heritage: practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, and skills that communities recognize as their cultural heritage. It is also a tool to support communities and practitioners in their contemporary cultural practices, whereas experts are associated only as mediators or facilitators. As a living form of heritage, the safeguarding measures for intangible cultural heritage aim, among other things, to ensure its continuing renewal and transmission to future generations.

What is the impact of inscription for communities and States?

The inscription of 429 elements has helped to bring attention to the significance of intangible cultural heritage thanks to the visibility it enjoys. A few years ago, the term ‘intangible cultural heritage’ was vague and mysterious, and sometimes derided. Media coverage at the time of inscription and beyond helps to popularize the concept and mobilize an increasing number of stakeholders, creating positive recognition of the fundamental importance of this form of heritage for social cohesion.

Once elements are included on the Lists, what steps does UNESCO take to safeguard them?

The safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage is the responsibility of States Parties to the Convention. Developing States have the possibility to request international assistance from the Intangible Cultural Heritage Fund. The grant is decided by the Committee (or its Bureau for amounts up to US$100,000).

There is also a process of on-going monitoring. Every four years, States Parties are required to submit a report to the Committee on the status of elements inscribed on the Urgent Safeguarding List, which must include an assessment of the actual state of the element, the impact of safeguarding plans and the participation of communities in the implementation of these plans. States Parties are also required to provide information on community institutions and organizations involved in the safeguarding efforts.

Furthermore, every six years, States Parties must present periodic reports on measures taken to implement the Convention, in which they must report the current state of all elements present on their territory and inscribed on the Representative List. These detailed reports contain information on the viability and action taken for safeguarding inscribed elements.

What are the risks and threats of inscription on the Lists?

There are threats and risks to intangible cultural heritage due to various types of inopportune activities. Heritage can be ‘blocked’ (loss of variation, creation of canonical versions and consequent loss of opportunities for creativity and change), decontextualized, its sense altered or simplified for foreigners, and its function and meaning for the communities concerned lost. This can also lead to the abuse of intangible cultural heritage or unjust benefit inappropriately obtained in the eyes of communities concerned by individual members of the community, the State, tour operators, researchers or other outside persons, as well as to the over-exploitation of natural resources, unsustainable tourism or the over-commercialization of intangible cultural heritage.

If an element is on the Representative List,does it mean that it is the best in comparison to other similar elements?

The inscription of an element does not mean it is the ‘best’ or ‘superior’ to another or that it has universal value but only that it has value for the community or individuals who are its practitioners. The element was proposed by a State that considers it ‘representative’ and is convinced that its inscription will allow a better understanding of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity and its significance in general.

Are languages in danger or religions eligible for inscription?

No. Specific languages cannot in themselves be nominated as elements to the Lists, but only as vehicles for the expression of the intangible heritage of a given group or community. A tradition requiring the use of a language (knowledge concerning nature, craftsmanship, performing arts) can be inscribed and its safeguarding will imply the safeguarding of the language concerned. The syntax, grammar and entire lexicon of a language are not considered as intangible cultural heritage under the terms of the Convention.

In a similar way, organized religions cannot be nominated specifically as elements for inscription, although a lot of intangible heritage has spiritual aspects. Intangible cultural heritage elements relating to religious traditions are normally presented as belonging under the domain of ‘knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe’ or ‘social practices, ritual and festive events’.

What happens in the case of controversial cultural practices, contrary to universal human rights?

As far as the Convention is concerned, it can take into consideration only intangible cultural heritage that is in line with existing international human rights instruments, as well as those that meet the requirements of mutual respect among communities, groups and individuals and of sustainable development. Controversial elements can still provoke fruitful discussions and encourage reflection on the meaning and value of intangible cultural heritage to communities, as well as its evolution and dynamic nature, which is constantly adapting to historical and social realities. At the national level, States can register what they consider appropriate for their inventories without intervention from UNESCO.

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