Sunday, April 17, 2016

UNESCO's Memory of the World programme: what will change?

This is a little update on what UNESCO's Executive Board decided last week regarding its Memory of the World programme.

To speak during UNESCO''s debates, delegates from Member States need to show their name plates vertically.  

First of all, what is the Memory of the World programme? It is the guardian of what I call UNESCO’s “world heritage list for documents”, officially called the Memory of the World Register. This register is a list of documents that are so unique and important for humanity that the international community decided to inscribe them on an official list administrated by a UN Agency (UNESCO). Examples of documents inscribed on that list are Anne Frank’s Diaries, the first films ever made (by the Lumière Brothers) and the largest medieval world map, the Hereford Mappa Mundi.

What’s special about this documentary heritage list is that any NGO or person, including you and me, can contact UNESCO to nominate a document! (read also this link). This the big difference with UNESCO’s World Heritage List for natural and cultural world heritage sites: only governments can nominate items for that prestigious list.

With this in mind you might now want to know how your significant document could become a UNESCO document. The procedure is as follows:

Firstly you fill out a form you can find on UNESCO’s website and you send it to UNESCO.
Secondly if UNESCO thinks your document has the potential to be inscribed on the Register it’s submitted to a small committee of 9 experts. They study all proposals, make a pre-selection and then submit this pre-selection to a bigger committee of 14 experts that manages the programme: the International Advisory Committee (IAC).
Thirdly the IAC discusses the pre-selection, adjusts it if necessary, and submits their selection proposal to UNESCO’s Director-General.
Fourthly the Director-General makes the final choice and decides which documents will be inscribed. The Director-General mostly accepts the selection proposal he or she receives from the IAC.

This nomination process is exactly what UNESCO’s Executive Board discussed last week. Starting point was the fact that this process is currently being revised by the IAC. For example the IAC will try to improve this process by making it more transparent (to show why some documents make it to the register while others don’t). It will also try to find a solution for sensitive items, like documents that describe controversial events that occurred during a military conflict (how should these items be dealt with?). In total 15 aspects of the nomination process will be revised, as described in this Executive Board document:

UNESCO's Headquarters in Paris where debates take place. It has three legs, which originally hosted the sectors for education, culture and science.

The Executive Board took the following decision.

Firstly it welcomed the review process led by IAC experts. This confirms the special character of the Memory of the World programme which distinguishes it from UNESCO’s World Heritage programme: it’s not managed by governments (like the World Heritage Committee which is composed of governments) but by the 18 experts that form the IAC.

Secondly it asks UNESCO to present the outcome of the revision process to the Member States and to keep them informed in the meantime. This means that governments will have the opportunity to appreciate the improvements to the programme that IAC experts will propose. This will happen during the Executive Board session in the Spring of 2017, after the Memory of the World Summit in Abu Dhabi in January 2017.

Here's the text of UNESCO's Executive Board decision:

1 comment:

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