6 The World Heritage Convention is particularly original. First, the same rules protect both cultural heritage and natural heritage (World Natural Heritage) and, with very few exceptions, the compliance procedure is the same for all World Heritage properties. Cultural heritage encompasses ‘monuments’, ‘groups of buildings’, and ‘cultural sites’ (Art 1 World Heritage Convention), such as temples, palaces, historic city centres, old villages, ports, and archaeological sites, whereas natural heritage includes ‘natural features’, ‘geological and physiographical formations’, and ‘natural sites or precisely delineated natural areas’ (Art 2 World Heritage Convention), for instance national parks, glaciers, lakes, mountains, reefs, caves, forests, or fjords. This common protection offered to ‘the most significant manifestations of what is man-made and what is the most extraordinary work of nature’ is unique and unprecedented in international law (Francioni, 2008, 5).
7 Second, the OGs recognize other categories of properties that are not identified in the World Heritage Convention, but are receiving the protection offered by this legal instrument. One category created in 1992 is ‘cultural landscapes’ (Rössler, 2002, 10), which represent the ‘combined works of nature and of man’ and ‘are illustrative of the evolution of human society and settlement over time, under the influence of the physical constraints and/or opportunities presented by their natural environment and of successive social, economic and cultural forces’ (OGs, 2017, para 47). The Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley (Afghanistan) are a good example of such cultural landscape. Six years later, ‘the integration of cultural and natural heritage in the implementation of the World Heritage Convention was taken further’ (Blake, 2015, 132), with the introduction of the ‘mixed cultural and natural heritage’ in the Guidelines (OGs, 2017, para 46), which are properties that ‘satisfy a part or the whole of the definitions of both cultural and natural heritage’ (OGs, 2017, para 46). The Ancient Maya City and Protected Tropical Forests of Calakmul (Mexico) or the Tongariro National Parks (New Zealand) are among the mixed sites of the World Heritage List. This recognition of the interdependence of nature and culture is unusual and has influenced the evolution of the compliance procedure, as will be described below.
8 The first set of obligations subject to the compliance procedure relates to the conservation of the cultural and natural sites of outstanding universal value. The ‘basic first step’ for States Parties, but also the ‘most central obligation’ of the World Heritage Convention (Boer, 2008a, 86–7), is to identify and delineate such properties situated on its own territory (Art 3 World Heritage Convention). This inventory will define the scope of its commitments at the national level. One of these commitments is to ensure the ‘protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations’ of this heritage, ‘to the utmost of its own resources and, where appropriate, with any international assistance and co-operation’ (Art 4 World Heritage Convention). To achieve these goals, States Parties ‘shall endeavour, in so far as possible, and as appropriate for each country’ (Art 5 World Heritage Convention) to take different measures, such as adopting a general policy to integrate the protection of their cultural and natural heritage into comprehensive planning programmes (Art 5.1 World Heritage Convention), or implementing ‘the appropriate legal, scientific, technical, administrative and financial measures necessary for the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and rehabilitation of this heritage’ (Art 5.4 World Heritage Convention). The idea is to ensure the safeguarding of all properties of outstanding universal value situated in its territory through the establishment of long-term protection and management (OGs, 2017, para 97). Failure to identify a property, whether for economic, political, cultural, spiritual, or other reasons, ‘could be seen as contrary to the aims of the Convention’ (Boer, 2008a, 92).
9 Another set of obligations under scrutiny relates to the creation of a World Heritage list. Each State Party shall submit to the WHC an inventory of property forming part of the cultural and natural heritage, situated in its territory and suitable for inclusion in the World Heritage List on the basis of its outstanding universal value (Art 11.1 and 11.2 World Heritage Convention). Considering not only the honour but also the economic impact associated with each nomination of a property on this list, the main ambition of the States Parties is to fulfil this commitment. In fact, ‘the opportunity to have their properties represented on the World Heritage List’ is the most important reward for their compliance with the World Heritage Convention (UNESCO, 2016, 19). It is worth noting that there is no definition of outstanding universal value in the treaty, but according to the OGs, it ‘means cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity’ (OGs, 2017, para 49). As such, this heritage ‘need[s] to be preserved as part of the world heritage of mankind as a whole’ (Preamble, sub-para 7 World Heritage Convention).
10 In concrete terms, each State Party is encouraged to prepare and submit to the Secretariat a Tentative List, that is, an inventory of the cultural and natural heritage located in its territory which it considers suitable for nomination to the World Heritage List (OGs, 2017, para 62). However, in order ‘to maintain a reasonable balance between cultural and natural heritage on the World Heritage List’ (OGs, 2017, para 57), the WHC may decide to limit the number of nominations examined each year, accept a limited number of nominations per State Party, or apply specific criteria to prioritize an under-represented category of sites. This happened several times in the past (Scovazzi, 2008, 167).
11 Far from being the end of a process, the inscription of a property on the World Heritage List is rather the beginning of an ongoing process of reviewing a State’s compliance with its commitments. For each of the sites appearing on this list, the State Party must ensure, through the implementation of appropriate measures of protection and management of the site, that its ‘[outstanding universal value], including the conditions of integrity and/or authenticity at the time of inscription, are sustained or enhanced over time’ (OGs, 2017, para 96). Thus, and as explained below (section C), one of the main objectives of the compliance procedure is to assess the preservation of the outstanding universal value of properties inscribed on the World Heritage List and to evaluate the actions taken by States Parties to preserve this value.
12 Another important part of the World Heritage Convention is the international assistance mechanism, which plays a crucial role in the protection of World Heritage. In this regard, the most tangible commitment of States Parties is to contribute to the Fund for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage of Outstanding Universal Value (‘Fund’) established by the World Heritage Convention (Art 15.3 (a) World Heritage Convention). Through this Fund, Parties can obtain assistance in a variety of forms, including studies on issues raised by the protection of the cultural and natural heritage, provisions of experts or skilled labour, training of staff and specialists, supply of equipment, low-interest or interest-free loans, or even non-repayable subsidies (Art 22 World Heritage Convention). Any State Party may request international assistance for property forming part of the cultural or natural heritage of outstanding universal value situated within its territory (Art 19 World Heritage Convention). In many cases, such international assistance may be crucial for the preservation of the outstanding universal value of a property and thus plays an important role in the compliance of some States Parties with their commitments (Raustiala, 2000, 420). This assistance mechanism is completed by general commitments by States Parties to cooperate in order to protect the World Heritage (Art 6.1 World Heritage Convention), and more specifically ‘to give their help in the identification, protection, conservation and presentation’ of this heritage if a State requests it (Art 6.2 World Heritage Convention). Moreover, each State Party must refrain from taking any deliberate measures which might damage the cultural and natural heritage situated on the territory of other States Parties (Art 6.3 World Heritage Convention).