Inventorying to ensure identification for safeguarding

Article 2.3 of the Convention, which defines the concept of safeguarding, enumerates a large number of safeguarding measures, all aimed at ensuring the viability of the ICH. The first measure mentioned is identification. Article 11 (b) comes back to identification. It stipulates that States Parties shall identify and define the various elements of the ICH present in their territory with the participation of communities, groups and relevant non-governmental organizations. Article 12.1 determines the link between identification and inventory making: to ensure identification with a view to safeguarding, each State Party shall draw up, in a manner geared to its own situation, one or more inventories of the ICH present in its territory. Article 11 and Article 12 are the only articles of the Convention to use compelling language (“shall”) vis-à-vis the States Parties. One of the two most concrete obligations States Parties have under this Convention is to identify, define and inventory the ICH they are responsible for, and – in accordance with Article 12.2 – to report to the Committee about they carry out this obligation.

Countries that have already started developing inventories in the spirit of the Convention indicated that inventorying ICH, and making inventories public, contributes to the formulation of concrete plans for preserving or restoring the viability of the elements concerned. Moreover, inventorying helps raise awareness of the existence of the ICH in its own right and of its importance for individual and collective identities. Inventorying also may encourage the creativity, pride and self-respect of the bearers of the expressions and practices concerned.

Drawing up inventories in relative freedom

The Convention, in its Article 12, leaves a great deal of freedom, stating that each State Party shall draw up in a manner geared to its own situation, one or more inventories of the ICH. Because States have different policies, because the make-up of the populations of States in terms of communities differs greatly and because the distribution of ICH manifestations over the various domains differs from region to region, it is not surprising that the Convention allows States to draw up their inventories in manners appropriate to their own circumstances.

In addition, States may choose to create one overarching inventory or a set of more restricted inventories, which means that they are not forced to mould all domains, or – possibly – all communities into one system. It also leaves open the possibility to integrate extant registries and catalogues. Federal states in which culture does not fall under the competence of a central government, too, might have a hard job to draw up one all-encompassing, internally consistent inventory of all of the ICH in their territories.

In spite of this freedom, the Convention appears to impose a number of conditions or constraints, the most explicit of which concerns community involvement.

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