UNESCO’s conventions in the field of culture were drafted and adopted following the request by Member States to develop international standards that could serve as a basis for drawing up national cultural policies and strengthen cooperation among them. The eight normative instruments created over a period of 55 years reflect the priorities of the international community in the field of culture at the time of their adoption. By comparing them, they also reflect the evolution of cultural policies and the role that different governmental and non-governmental actors play. They complement each other in so far as they deal with different subjects and provide a standard reference for national cultural policies. Moreover, newly adopted instruments enable us to better understand existing ones, since they reflect the impact of past policies and new needs. Taken together, they constitute a set of tools aimed at supporting Member States in their efforts to preserve the world’s cultural diversity in a constantly changing international environment. Their effectiveness is based on the commitment taken by Member States to implement them once ratified.
The General Conference of UNESCO adopted in 2003, at its 32nd session, the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. The adoption of the Convention became a milestone in the evolution of international policies for promoting cultural diversity, since for the first time the international community had recognized the need to support the kind of cultural manifestations and expressions that until then had not benefited from such a large legal and programmatic framework.
Complementary to other international instruments dealing with cultural heritage, such as the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, the main goal of this 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage is to safeguard the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge and skills that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. Such heritage may be manifested in domains such as oral traditions and expressions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practice about nature and the universe, and traditional craftsmanship. This definition provided in Article 2 of the Convention also includes the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated with intangible cultural heritage. The definition is the result of long-standing intergovernmental negotiations that tuned-up concepts and lead to the approval of the current text.