The Case for Ethical Guidelines: Preventing Conflict in the Selection of World Heritage Sites



The criteria and procedure for inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List are defined by the 1972 World Heritage Convention and its accompanying Operational Guidelines, but both documents still do not offer definitive parameters to which the World Heritage Committee can refer when deciding on nominated sites that are in dispute, or under protest, or can potentially cause conflict. The Committee is therefore left with significant latitude in interpreting ethically ambiguous issues accompanying nominations—a situation conducive to inconsistent decisions and politicking. As such, decisions by the World Heritage Committee are vulnerable to political pressure, and nominations have become a source of conflict on both local and international levels.

This chapter posits that creating ethical guidelines to augment the existing inscription criteria for World Heritage sites can help the Committee arrive more consistently at judicious decisions on ethically challenging nominations, and that using the lens of ethics in assessing the substance of a nominated site as well as possible consequences of its inscription can help prevent conflict. An examination of three nominations involving disputes between states illustrates different conflict situations and how ethical guidelines can work as a deterrent. An analysis of the Committee’s rules and actions shows how the site selection process has become politicized, and why ethical guidelines are necessary given the prevalence of heritage contestation. A review of the context by which select international organizations produced ethical codes reveals that enacting ethical guidelines within UNESCO’s current site selection structure is feasible, while the distinct configuration of the site selection process crucially ensures that they will be operable and enforceable. This chapter concludes that ethical guidelines are therefore a justifiable conflict prevention measure for the selection of World Heritage sites.


Conflict prevention Ethics Inscription process UNESCO World Heritage 



My deepest gratitude to Mr. Peter Stevens for the translation assistance and Ms. Karen Nomorosa for all the support, technical and otherwise.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Los AltosUSA

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