Cablegate: World Heritage Working Group On Election of Members - Paris
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SUBJECT: WORLD HERITAGE WORKING GROUP ON ELECTION OF MEMBERS - PARIS
MEETINGS, MAY 2008
1. (U) Summary: The second session of the Working Group meeting to
examine issues concerning the election of members of the World
Heritage Committee (WHC) made little progress, as expected, but
advanced on defining the key points to consider. End summary.
2. (U) The open-ended Working Group of States Parties to the World
Heritage Convention met for its second session on 26 May 2008 to
discuss the sensitive issues regarding the election of members on
the World Heritage Committee (WHC). Ambassador Kondo of Japan again
chaired the meeting, with Belgium's Ambassador Kridelka acting as
the single Vice-Chair. Hungary's Gabor Soos is the group's
rapporteur. The US was represented by Assistant Secretary of the
Interior, Lyle Laverty and Stephen Morris, accompanied by US Mission
3. (U) Kondo started the meeting by suggesting that the current
reduced Bureau (Kondo - Group IV; Kridelka - Group I; Soos - Group
II) be continued, and that at the third and fourth meetings, the
Vice Chair and Rapporteur be switched to include representatives
from Group V(a) and Group V(b). (Note: He made no mention of Group
III's participation, but it would likely be proposed for the fourth
meeting.) Mr. Soos then read out a summary of the first meeting,
which will be scanned and sent to addressees via separate e-mail.
Kondo said that he had been able to consult with some of the
geographic groups, but still wished to consult with Groups I and III
prior to the Quebec meeting, where he is scheduled to give a
progress report to the World Heritage Committee regarding the
Working Group's efforts to date. Kondo also noted the fact that the
Africa Group was not present at the meeting due to a scheduling
conflict with the launch of Africa Week activities. (Note: Few
African delegations attended either the Working Group meeting or the
WH Information meeting held the following day.)
4. (U) To launch the discussion, Kondo identified seven points that
he wanted to cover during the meetings: 1) gaps between mandates;
2) reserved seats for countries not having any sites or never
elected to the Committee; 3) refraining from nominating sites while
on the Committee; 4) quotas; 5) groupings; 6) simplification of
voting methods; 7) expertise of representatives. Despite his best
efforts to control the agenda, almost every delegate spoke on
several of the points when given the floor. Several of the issues
were touched on only briefly, due to the wide range of subjects.
Experts - Setting Criteria
5. (U) The Polish Ambassador began the meeting by suggesting that
the people named to the World Heritage Committee be "experts".
While most speakers agreed that expertise is vital in understanding
the issues before the Committee, the room was almost unanimous that
it is the sovereign right of Member States to select their
representatives, and that the idea of setting criteria would not be
6. (U) The Belgian Ambassador raised the issue of capacity-building
in the context of expertise. He noted that many of the African
countries will always be at a disadvantage as they do not have the
necessary structures in place to train people in the fields of
heritage conservation and management.
Gaps Between Mandates to Improve Rotation
7. (U) There were several schools of thought regarding the idea of a
gap between WH Committee mandates. The current gap of two years was
viewed as too short, and does little to improve rotation among the
185 Member States wishing to be elected to the 21-member WH
Committee. There was relatively general agreement, among those
speaking, that a four year gap would be an acceptable compromise.
Some suggested that the term of a mandate match the gap between
mandates (e.g., four year term followed by a four year gap).
8. (U) Kondo presented some figures to help frame the discussion of
There are now 185 State Parties to the Convention.
77 have been elected to the WH Committee once or more.
108 have never been elected. Of the 108, 71 never presented their
candidacies, 37 tried, but lost. 42 have no sites inscribed on the
WH List, and only 2 have no sites inscribed, but were elected to the
No Gentlemen Here
9. (U) There were several countries that expressed concern that a
voluntary gap would not work. India, notably, said that a
"gentlemen's agreement" would not work if not everyone was a
gentleman. Zimbabwe also agreed that voluntary gaps would not be
respected, and that one Member State could cause an otherwise
workable system to collapse. The majority present seemed to support
the idea of a decision by consensus that would guarantee that all
Member States would respect whatever decision was taken.
10. (U) The Nordic countries were supportive of longer gaps between
service, with Sweden suggesting a minimum of four years, but ideally
a break of six to eight years. Norway, however, was by far the most
extreme on this point, suggesting that a gap of twelve to sixteen
years is the only way to ensure proper rotation, and pushing that we
conclude on this point during the upcoming Quebec meetings. The
Czech Republic proposed that membership on the Executive Board and
the WH Committee should not overlap.
Reserved seat for a "no site" State, or "election loser"
11. (U) There was a brief exchange on whether one of the 21 seats on
the World Heritage Committee be reserved for countries having no
sites currently inscribed on the WH List. Most countries indicated
their support for this idea. Another suggestion was that a seat be
set aside for a country which had tried but failed to get elected to
the WH Committee. There was less vocal support for this idea.
Refraining from Nominating Sites While on the Committee
12. (U) This was a complicated discussion, as perceptions and facts
did not always mesh. The widely held perception is that a country's
best chance of success in getting a site inscribed on the WH List is
while that state is on the Committee. The reality, however, is that
many states have had sites inscribed when they were not on the
13. (U) The other point raised on this subject was one of timing.
For those countries that already have nominations in the "pipeline",
the question came up regarding timing conflicts, nominations, and
delays in connection with presence on the WH Committee.
14. (U) Some suggested that it is a conflict of interest to actively
lobby for a site that a state would be voting on.
(Note: The US, in fact, campaigned for the WH Committee with the
promise that it would not nominate any sites while it sat on the
Committee.) Others said that there is no conflict of interest in
nominating sites from your own State while on the Committee.
France, for example, suggested that there should be no "blanket ban"
on refraining from nominating sites while on the Committee.
15. (U) The Legal Advisor was asked to weigh in on the issue, and
said that States Parties have a right to submit nominations under
the Convention, and it would not be possible to limit that right.
Clearly, this issue will be one of the most difficult to resolve in
16. (U) This issue also proved to be a difficult one without any
resolution. The WH Convention requires that "the election of
members of the Committee shall ensure an equitable representation of
the different regions and cultures." However, there is no specific
language or indication as to whether the same system of geographic
distribution used in UNESCO, at the Executive Board, for instance,
or elsewhere in the United Nations be the basis for this "equitable
representation" by region.
17. (U) There were suggestions that Member States could potentially
create a whole new system of geographic representation for the
purposes of this Convention. Several States suggested that the WH
Convention mirror other recent Conventions on this point noting, in
particular, the Intangible Cultural Convention. Other countries,
including St. Lucia, added the point that the Convention also
mentions equitable representation of "cultures", a subject that
others quickly dropped, as if any discussion of the subject would be
like taking a walk in a diplomatic minefield.
18. (U) Strangely, the Member States present reflexively put any
discussion into the context of UNESCO's standard and structured six
regional Group system.
19. (U) Linked to the issue of groupings, which itself remains
unresolved, the question of quotas was raised by Chairman Kondo in a
variety of possible scenarios: 1)partial quotas; 2) proportional
quotas; 3) minimum quotas; 4) maximum/full quotas.
20. (U) On this issue, Norway began the debate by stating that it is
not interested in amending the Convention, yet noting that we do not
have an "equitable" division today as, for example, Group II is
currently not represented on the WH Committee. Norway also stated
that we follow the concept of full quotas everywhere at UNESCO,
except in the context of this Convention. Several other Member
States supported the idea of minimum quotas, with at least one seat
reserved for each geographic group. France's new Ambassador
Colonna, said that we should be "cautious" on this issue of quotas,
and generally advocated a careful and gradual approach on all the
issues raised during the meeting.
21. (U) Netherlands noted that quotas "do not always work to our
advantage", and stressed the necessity for a Convention that stands
for "universality, above regional and group interests".
Netherlands did, however, support a minimum quota of one seat per
22. (U) The question of how to divide the 21 seats continues to
raise problems. India suggested adopting a "floating seat" that
would move among the groups. Others suggested one seat per group,
with the rest of the seats be open to free voting, (apart from one
or two set aside for countries that do not have a site on the WH
List, or a seat for a country that was not successful in its
candidature to run for the WH Committee). The Indian ambassador
said that for her, quotas are used, citing the US (affirmative
action ?) as an example, to help "mainstream those who need help".
23. (U) Morocco was concerned that we could introduce too many
changes that could destabilize the Convention. Canada stressed the
fact that inscription is not the only part of the Committee's work,
and that the attention to rotation and quotas is linked to the
perception that it is not possible to successfully campaign for a
site if a country is not a Committee member. The figures on this
point, however, show that many countries, including India, for
example, have been able to inscribe many sites (India = 37) despite
the fact that it has only had two terms on the Committee.
24. (U) The US delegation, led by Assistant Secretary of the
Interior, Lyle Laverty and Stephen Morris, made the point that
minimum quotas could easily turn in to maximum quotas in the long
term, and that we must be cautious of establishing new principles.
Moving Forward - Best Approach?
25. (U) Chairman Kondo said that clearly, we need to better define
what we want to achieve. Secondly, we must then decide how best to
put these things into effect. Whether we try to amend the
Convention, change the Rules of Procedure, or work through informal
understandings and consensus.
26. (U) Chairman Kondo asked the Legal Advisor to prepare a written
paper exploring the legal elements of each of the seven items that
were discussed, indicating which element is linked to the
Convention's language, which can be achieved through a change in the
Rules of Procedure, or through informal understandings.
27. (U) India asked, if the concept of rotation is not accepted by
everyone, why then are the WH Committee meetings are rotated to
different regions every year? She also questioned why the Moroccan
ambassador, during the elections in Christchurch, announced prior to
the final election rounds, that Group II was about to be left off of
the Committee if, regional groups were not to be considered. India
said that "there is nothing sinister in regional groupings".
Simplification of Voting Methods
28. (U) There were a few comments made supporting the need to
simplify voting methods, including instituting electronic voting,
but no specific recommendations were forthcoming.
29. (U) Senegal, as one of the few African states present at the
meeting, said that we should exclude no option at this point.
30. (U) Zimbabwe suggested that we should not be afraid of amending
the Convention, if need be. This idea, however, had raised concerns
during the first meeting about the obstacles in ratification
processes in different countries, and the potential nightmare of two
concurrent Conventions in effect. India, in an earlier exchange,
had suggested that "protocols" could be added to the Convention
without any problem.
31. (U) Finally, Kondo suggested the creation of a small (3-5
person) drafting group to write down the various comments and ideas
expressed during the day-long meeting, but did not propose any
concrete steps to launch the group.
31. (U) Comment: Overall, the "go slow" message was the one
repeated by most delegations during the course of the day. Kondo,
clearly made no move to rush things forward, indicating that he
expected to hold at least two more meetings on these issues before
reporting to the next WH General Assembly in Fall 2009. End
Two additional discussions related to the World Heritage Committee
Dinner at Australian Ambassador's 26 May
Spain, UK, Canada, Israel, US, Sweden attending.
Pre-selection for Capacity Building?
32. (U) It was suggested that one idea to explore would be the
pre-selection of Member States, whereby they would begin attending
meetings as observers two years prior to taking their seats on the
WH Committee, so gain greater expertise regarding the Committee's
workings. (Note: Ambassador Oliver later indicated that she did
not support this idea, as all countries are now able to sit in on
all WH Committee meetings - including Bureau meetings.)
Politicization vs. Universality
33. (U) Christine Cameron, the Chairman of the Quebec WH Committee
meeting, said that she has become concerned by the growing tendency
to politicize and even monetize the issues the WH Committee is
dealing with, and minimize the spirit of universality and
identification of sites with "outstanding universal value" that was
behind the Convention. She stated that China, for example, has been
extremely active in promoting several dozen new sites for
inscription, which she views as a purely economic move to boost
Overload at the WH Center
34. (U) There was also concern expressed about the increase in the
workload at the World Heritage Center, and the fact that we will
soon be dealing with over one thousand inscribed sites. Cameron and
Australia want to push the WH Committee to set up a Working Group to
consider what kind of issues we will face in administering the
Convention over the next 10-15 year period. Will system overload
lead inevitably to system failure ? OLIVER