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Paris, 26 January 2022
 Madam Chair,


South Africa wishes to thank you for convening this second meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group as mandated by the World Heritage Committee during its 44th Session  held in July 2021.


We would like to assure you of Africa’s support and cooperation over the coming months as we strive to broaden the reflection on the issue of sites associated with memories of recent conflicts.  The mandate of the Open-Ended Working Group is clearly articulated in Decision 44 COM of the World Heritage Committee.


This Open-Ended Working Group is  expected to afford States Parties an opportunity to be heard on the matter of sites of memories of recent conflicts; incorporate those views that are currently not reflected in existing reports, and  consider whether these sites do relate to the scope and purpose of the World Heritage Convention. 


Madam Chair,


Following the Experts Meeting that was convened in 2020 by the Secretariat of the World Heritage Committee pursuant to the Committee’s decision of 2018 in Manama, a meeting of African Experts and Ministers was convened in April 2021 to continue reflections on this important subject.


Accordingly, the meeting concluded that sites associated with memories of recent conflicts do meet the purpose and scope of the 1972 World Heritage Convention. Our justification for the inscription of these sites is based on three factors: namely legal framework, philosophical and historical significance and on precedence. Allow me Madam Chair to briefly expand on each of these factors.




Firstly, ICOMOS in its 2020 Paper correctly asserted that the World Heritage List is the key outcome of the World Heritage Convention and should thus be seen as an important element of UNESCO’s main objective of contributing to peace and security in the world. Therefore the inscription of the sites of memories of recent conflicts is in line with the spirit of the World Heritage Convention.


Secondly, we agree that although the text of the World Heritage Convention sets out its purposes broadly, it did not clarify how sites associated with memories of recent conflicts might be defined as being of Outstanding Universal Value. Instead, it gave the World Heritage Committee the responsibility to define the necessary criteria.  We note that since 1972 the purposes of the World Heritage Convention have been clarified through the definition of Outstanding Universal Value ,  defined in 1978 and and amended several times and formally defined in 2005. Importantly, “ the justification of Outstanding Universal Value is thus depended on the value of the property being considered as above national interests and having a commonality  .. to all of mankind as part of the heritage of mankind”. Thus this relevance of properties to humanity as a whole is central to the World Heritage Convention” (ICOMOS).


Thirdly, one of the strengths of the World Heritage Convention which will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year, is the way it has reflected and responded to the changing perceptions of heritage over time. According to ICOMOS these changing shifts and perceptions have been largely reflected in the types of cultural properties that have been inscribed. Indeed by accommodating these changes the World Heritage List has become a mirror  of what society values as heritage at each epoch. Thus a consideration of the sites of memories of recent conflicts with potential Outstanding Universal Value for the World Heritage Listing should be seen as part of the natural shifts of perception of heritage as well as the interest of contemporary societies.


Fourthly; the inscription of sites associated with memories of recent conflicts with outstanding Universal Value on the World Heritage List would be in line with the World Heritage Committee’s Global Strategy for a representative, Balanced and Credible World Heritage List. As you know the challenge of an imbalance in the World Heritage List is more pronounced in Africa, representing less than 10 per cent of the total sites on the list.


Lastly as Beazly and Cameron assert in their 2020 paper: If the World Heritage List is going to meet the needs of today’s society and the heritage that it seeks to preserve, and if sites of recent conflicts and other negative and divisive memories are being proposed for inscription, then these contemporary interests needed to be considered through a lens of World Heritage process and policy. It must be emphasized that sites associated with memories of recent conflicts are eligible for inscription under criterion VI if they are associated with an event or ideas of outstanding universal significance” We believe Madame Chair that these sites are associated with an event of outstanding universal significance.


Given the afore-mentioned reasons, it is evident that there is no legal or policy impediment  for considering sites associated with memories of recent conflicts and that each type or category of heritage have to be assessed on its Outstanding Universal Value  and on whether it advances the mission and purpose of UNESCO and the World heritage Convention.




On Precedence Madame Chair and Distinguished Colleagues;


Examples already exist of sites of memory that the World Heritage Committee has considered of Outstanding Universal Value, all of which were inscribed on the World Heritage List under Criteria VI. These sites include, amongst others, Auschwitz Birkenau, which bears witness to the strength of the human spirit under conditions of adversity; Aapravasi Ghat, which represents the memories, traditions and values of a people who migrated to work in foreign lands and signalled the beginning of a new world economic order; the Genbaku Dome which is symbolic of the achievement of world peace for more than half a century; the Island of Goree, which bears testimony to the unprecedented human experience of the slave trade; and finally, Robben Island, which symbolizes the triumph of the human spirit, of freedom and of democracy over oppression.


Madam Chair,


As can be seen from the aforementioned sites currently inscribed on the World Heritage List, these sites not only meet the legal criteria, but also provide examples of a sound philosophical argument that sites of memory should be listed as sites of Outstanding Universal Value.  Not only have they forged our common destiny as nations and continents, but they have provided an exchange and dialogue between cultures through the ideals of reconciliation and forgiveness.  More importantly, they will educate future generations about the importance of human rights, non-discrimination, the dignity of others, and about tolerance and peace among nations. In 2010, Cameron defined these sites as “places that bear witness to human rights abuses, including genocide, slavery and other violations of freedom”.  The World Heritage List therefore honours the great achievements of humankind and the strength of the human spirit to overcome extreme hardships.


An incorrect perception has therefore been created that all sites of memory represent “negative and divisive memories”.  Expert reports ignored the fact that in my country, and in many other countries considering the submission of dossiers, the sites presented for listing primarily represent positive values which contribute towards intercultural dialogue and social cohesion.  African experts have concluded that these positive values are consistent with the purpose and scope of the Convention and that the recommendation of the December 2019 expert meeting incorrectly pre-empted future considerations of sites of memory. 


Madam Chair,


It is important to note that, when reflecting on the sites of precedence that have already been listed, these sites cannot be treated as representative of all future sites. In fact, there is no legal basis in the 1972 Convention that these sites could be considered on the principle of “symbolic representation”. As this principle cannot be found in the 1972 Convention, it cannot be held binding for future inscriptions. By allowing some sites of memory to be considered of universal importance and protection and others not, a perception is created that only sites associated with memory in certain regions are considered important, whilst others are not.  The pain inflicted on mankind is not exclusive to the history of certain regions, but instead should be reflective of, and acknowledge, the experiences of societies in all regions of the world.


In conclusion, Madam Chair, South Africa, on behalf of the Africa Group, recommends that the outcome presented by the Open-Ended Working Group for consideration during the 45th Session of the World Heritage Committee should incorporate all the reflections on this matter and in this regard we will submit on behalf of the Africa Group the Report and Declaration issued by the African Ministers responsible for culture following their meeting in April 2021 outlining Africa’s position and request that it forms part of the outcome of this process.


We also recommend that the Open-Ended Working Group should affirm the rights of each State Party to submit their dossiers including those associated with memories of recent conflicts under criterion VI and each file be considered in its own merit.


I thank you.   


*The Open-ended Working Group was established to consider the views of States Parties to the World Heritage Convention on whether these sites do reflect the spirit of the World Heritage Convention as well as the objectives of UNESCO.