The World Heritage Convention ("Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage") is a United Nations treaty. It governs the selection and protection of these sites. The nations that have agreed to the treaty elect 21 nations to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. That committee sets the site list.
The sites are places (such as a forest, mountain, lake, desert, monument, building, complex, or city). As of 2014[update], 1007 sites in 161 different countries are listed. There are 779 cultural sites, 197 natural sites, and 31 mixed properties. Italy has 50 sites on the list, which is the most for any country.
Each World Heritage Site remains part of the legal territory of the nation where the site is located. UNESCO wants everyone in the world to work to protect each site. Sometimes UNESCO provides funds to help protect a site. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have destroyed some sites.
Until the end of 2004, there were six criteria for cultural heritage and four criteria for natural heritage. In 2005, this was modified so that there is only one set of ten criteria. Nominated sites must be of "outstanding universal value" and meet at least one of the ten criteria. If a site meets criteria in both cultural and natural, it is called a "mixed site".
- "represents a masterpiece of human creative genius and cultural significance"
- "exhibits an important interchange of human values, over a span of time, or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning, or landscape design"
- "to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared"
- "is an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural, or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates a significant stage in human history"
- "is an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture, or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change"
- "is directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance"
- "contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance"
- "is an outstanding example representing major stages of Earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features"
- "is an outstanding example representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems, and communities of plants and animals"
- "contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation"
Legal status of designated sites
UNESCO designation as a World Heritage Site provides prima facie evidence that such culturally sensitive sites are legally protected pursuant to the Law of War, under the Geneva Convention, its articles, protocols and customs, together with other treaties including the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and international law.
Thus, the Geneva Convention treaty promulgates:
"Article 53. PROTECTION OF CULTURAL OBJECTS AND OF PLACES OF WORSHIP. Without prejudice to the provisions of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of 14 May 1954,' and of other relevant international instruments, it is prohibited:
- (a) To commit any acts of hostility directed against the historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples;
- (b) To use such objects in support of the military effort;
- (c) To make such objects the object of reprisals."
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