During the next four years Switzerland will use its position on the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, in which 21 states are represented, to lobby for the protection of mankind's cultural and natural heritage (see Box 1). Of the 140 signatory states to the World Heritage Convention who voted, 104 supported Switzerland, who was elected to the Committee in the first round, well ahead of the next contender. 29 signatory states had stood as candidates for the 12 seats that had become vacant. This is the second time that Switzerland has been a member of this internationally significant executive body; the first period was 1978-1985. This clear result constitutes both a vote of confidence for Switzerland and strengthens its commitment to the international community and the implementation of the World Heritage Convention.
A key challenge for the committee is the practical implementation of a global strategy for a balanced, representative and credible World Heritage List. The wealth of valuable natural and cultural treasures worldwide and the great interest engendered by the label "World Heritage" is reflected in the large number of applications for admission to the World Heritage List. This not only represents a stiff challenge for UNESCO's limited resources, but can also lead to increased political pressure on the World Heritage Committee. Switzerland will lobby for a thematically and geographically balanced list and to maintain the high quality of the Convention.
Switzerland is represented in the World Heritage Committee by the Ambassador of the Permanent Delegation of Switzerland to UNESCO, in Paris, and by representatives of the Federal Office for the Environment FOEN (DETEC), the Federal Office of Culture FOC (FDHA) and the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA.
Switzerland's increasing involvement
For some years now the question of World Heritage has been gaining in significance in Switzerland with further sites being inscribed on the World Heritage List (see Box 2). At the same time, Switzerland has intensified its contribution to the implementation of the World Heritage Convention and has organised international conferences and workshops with experts. This year Switzerland will host an international meeting of UNESCO experts which will take place from 10-13 November in Lavaux (VD) and will work on concrete ways in which the training of professionals can ensure a better management of World Heritage sites.
Switzerland wants to share its technical abilities, its experience and its know-how within the decision-making process in World Heritage management, in monitoring tasks, in international support and in participatory processes. For some years now Switzerland has been offering support in the sphere of development cooperation, including financial support for the protection and restoration of World Heritage Sites, for example, in San'a, the capital of Yemen, in the Bulgarian Pirin National Park and in Angkor, Cambodia.
Responsibility of the World Heritage Committee
The World Heritage Committee is an important executive body of the World Heritage Convention of 1972. The Committee establishes strategies for the protection of the world's cultural and natural heritage. It is responsible for the implementation of the Convention and in particular also decides on the inclusion of sites in the World Heritage List or their exclusion from it. To date, the list comprises 890 World Heritage Sites of unique universal value, ten of which are situated in Switzerland. The World Heritage List is the most visible instrument of the collective protection system created by the Convention, in order to preserve our natural and cultural heritage for future generations.
World Heritage in Switzerland
Switzerland joined UNESCO in 1948. The World Heritage Convention was ratified by Switzerland in 1975. Three federal agencies are responsible for World Heritage in Switzerland: the Federal Department for Foreign Affairs (FDFA), the Federal Office for Culture (FOC) and the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN). There are currently ten World Heritage Sites in Switzerland.
Since 1949 the Swiss Commission for UNESCO has been advising the federal authorities (Parliament, the Federal Council and the Federal Administration) on the work and goals of UNESCO while working to promote public awareness of the Organisation's values.
The 10 World Heritage Sites in Switzerland:
1983 Old City of Berne
1983 Benedictine Convent of St. John in Müstair
1983 Convent of St. Gall
2000 Three Castles, Defensive Walls and Ramparts of the Medieval Town of Bellinzone
2001 Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch (extended in 2007)
2003 Monte San Giorgio
2007 Lavaux, Vineyard Terraces
2008 Rhaetian Railway in the Albula/Bernina Landscapes
2008 Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona
2009 La Chaux-de-Fonds/Le Locle, Town Planning for Clock-making
The Urban and Architectural Works of Le Corbusier
Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps (in preparation)
Address for enquiries:
Nicolas Mathieu, Political Directorate V, FDFA, tel. +41 (79) 664 30 79, (Coordination)
Johann Mürner, Cultural Heritage and Historical Monuments Section, FOC, tel. +41 (79) 277 37 81, (World Cultural Heritage)
Bruno Stephan Walder, Natural Heritage Section, FOEN, tel. +41 (79) 312 92 59, (World Natural Heritage)