Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage
Paris, 16 November 1972
  • Introductory Note
  • Procedural History
  • Documents
  • Status
F o r t h c o m i n g
Introductory note by Abdulqawi A. Yusuf
Judge, International Court of Justice

The Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage entered into force on 17 December 1975, three months after the date of the deposit of the twentieth instrument of ratification, acceptance or accession, pursuant to its article 33.

Efforts aimed at the preservation of artistic and historic heritage of mankind date back to the time of the League of Nations. The establishment of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), on 16 November 1945, gave new impetus to such efforts. In 1966, UNESCO’s General Conference adopted resolution 3.342, by which it instructed the Director-General to coordinate and secure the international adoption of appropriate principles and scientific, technical and legal criteria for the protection of cultural property, monuments and sites. Meetings of experts were held and their final reports suggested that the Director-General should prepare an international recommendation, which could serve as a basis for creating or perfecting national systems of protection, and prepare an international convention or other appropriate means to favour the establishment of an international system for the protection of monuments, groups of buildings and sites of universal value. In 1970, the General Conference, by resolution 3.412, entrusted the Acting Director-General with drafting an international convention and invited him to convene a Special Committee tasked with examining and finalizing the drafts. The Committee completed its work with the adoption of the draft “Convention for the Protection of the Cultural and Natural World Heritage” and the draft “Recommendation Concerning the Protection, at National Level, of the Cultural and Natural Heritage” in April 1972. The two texts were submitted to the seventeenth session of the General Conference on 15 November 1972 and adopted the following day.

The Convention contains 38 articles which are divided into eight parts: I. Definition of the Cultural and Natural Heritage; II. National Protection and International Protection of the Cultural and Natural Heritage; III. Intergovernmental Committee for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage; IV. Fund for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage; V. Conditions and Arrangements for International Assistance; VI. Educational Programmes; VII. Reports; and VIII. Final Clauses.


العربيةArabic 中文 English English FrançaisFrench РусскийRussian EspañolSpanish

Efforts aimed at the preservation of artistic and historic heritage of mankind date back to the time of the League of Nations. The establishment of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on 16 November 1945, with a mission to “maintain, increase and diffuse knowledge by assuring the conservation and protection of the world’s inheritance of books, works of art and monuments of history and science, and recommending to the nations concerned the necessary international conventions” (article 1 of the Constitution of UNESCO) gave new impetus to such efforts. Resolution 6.4 adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO at its third session (Records of the General Conference, third session, Beirut, 1948, vol. II, p. 28) initiated the discussions within UNESCO on the preservation of monuments and sites of historical value through the establishment of an international fund to subsidize such activities. The discussions primarily focused on the establishment of a tourist tax, the proceeds of which would be reserved in part for the preservation of monuments and museums in the signatory countries and in part for an international fund controlled by UNESCO. They remained ongoing until 1953, but no agreement was reached.

In 1961, by decision 11.1 adopted at its 60th session (60 EX/Decisions, pp. 18-19), the Executive Board of UNESCO invited the Acting Director-General to revert to resolution 6.4 adopted by the General Conference in 1948, and to explore ways and means of financing an international fund for the preservation of artistic and historic monuments. As authorized by resolution 4.412 adopted by the General Conference at its twelfth session (Records of the General Conference, twelfth session, Paris, 1962, Resolutions, p. 51), the Director-General submitted a study of measures for the preservation of monuments through the establishment of an international fund or by any other appropriate means to the Executive Board at its 65th session in 1963 (65 EX/9). At the same session, the Executive Board examined the first report of the Programme and External Relations Commission, which had been set up at its 64th session (65 EX/27), and requested that the Director-General’s study be revised and that the revised document be circulated to Member States, national commissions and appropriate international non-governmental organizations inviting them to submit their views (65 EX/Decisions 4.4.1).

The study was accordingly revised (UNESCO/CUA/122) and sent out to the appropriate institutions by circular letter on 16 July 1963. The replies were summarized in the Director-General’s report on measures for the preservation of monuments of historical and artistic value, submitted to the General Conference at its 13th session in 1964 (13 C/PRG/15). By resolution 3.332, adopted by the General Conference at the same session (Records of the General Conference, thirteenth session, Paris, 1964, Resolutions, p. 56-57), the Director-General was authorized to continue undertaking studies on the issue.

At its fourteenth session in 1966, the General Conference adopted resolution 3.342, by which it instructed the Director-General to coordinate and secure the international adoption of appropriate principles and scientific, technical and legal criteria for the protection of cultural property, monuments and sites (Records of the General Conference, fourteenth session, Paris, 1966, Resolutions, p. 62) and authorized him to study the possibility of arranging an appropriate system of international protection, at the request of States concerned, for a few of the monuments that form an integral part of the cultural heritage of mankind (resolution 3.3411).

In implementation of these resolutions, meetings of experts were held from 26 February to 2 March 1968 and from 21 to 25 July 1969. Their final reports suggested that the Director-General should prepare an international recommendation, which could serve as a basis for creating or perfecting national systems of protection, and prepare an international convention or other appropriate means to favour the establishment of an international system for the protection of monuments, groups of buildings and sites of universal value (SCH/CS/27/8, 31 December 1968 and SHC/MD/4, 10 November 1969).

The Director-General’s Preliminary study on the technical and legal aspects of a possible international instrument for the protection of monuments and sites of universal value was submitted to the Executive Board at its eighty-fourth session in 1970 (84 EX/14). By resolution 5.3 (84 EX/Decisions, p. 43) the Board decided to include the question of the advisability of establishing an international instrument for the protection of monuments and sites of universal value in the provisional agenda of the sixteenth session of the General Conference. The text of the Preliminary study was accordingly communicated to Member States on 31 July 1970 (16 C/19).

At its sixteenth session, having examined the Preliminary study, the General Conference adopted resolution 3.412 (Records of the General Conference, sixteenth session, Paris, 1970, vol. I, p. 55), by which it considered it desirable that international instruments be prepared for the protection of monuments and sites of universal value and decided to entrust the Director-General with drafting an international convention and a recommendation to Member States, and invited him to convene a Special Committee tasked with examining and finalizing the drafts with a view to their submission to the General Conference at its seventeenth session in 1972.

The Director-General prepared a preliminary report on the matter and circulated it to Member States and international organizations, together with preliminary drafts for both instruments, on 30 June 1971 (SHC/MD/17). In a final report, the Director-General communicated and provided an analytical study of the replies received from States to his preliminary report, and submitted revised draft instruments, taking into consideration the comments and observations received (SHC/MD/18, 21 February 1972 and Add.1-4, 10, 31 March, 4 and 11 April 1972, respectively). Both reports were submitted to the Special Committee of government experts (“Special Committee”) to prepare a draft convention and a draft recommendation to Member States concerning the protection of monuments, groups of buildings and sites.

The Special Committee met in Paris from 4 to 22 April 1972. As suggested in a note from the General Secretariat of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, communicated to the Special Committee on 6 April 1972 (SHC/72-CONF.37/3), in finalizing the two draft instruments, the Special Committee also took into consideration the results of the work of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature on an international convention for the conservation of world natural heritage.

The Director-General invited the Special Committee to give particular attention to the issue of addressing both the aspect of cultural heritage and of natural heritage, in a completely balanced manner, in the draft instruments to be finalised (Draft report of the Committee, SHC.72/CONF.37/19 and Add.1 and Add.2). The Committee held 22 plenary meetings to study the draft convention and five plenary meetings to study the draft recommendation. During the proceedings, it set up two working groups and two drafting committees, one committee to prepare the draft convention and the other one to prepare the draft recommendation. In the course of its work, the Committee was presented with 128 draft amendments to the draft convention and 46 draft amendments to the draft recommendation. The Committee completed its work with the adoption of the draft “Convention for the Protection of the Cultural and Natural World Heritage” (SHC-72/CONF.37/20) and the draft “Recommendation Concerning the Protection, at National Level, of the Cultural and Natural Heritage” (SHC-72/CONF.37/21).

Following amendments and adoption by UNESCO’s Commission for General Programme Matters (Records of the General Conference, seventeenth session, vol. 2, Report of the Commission for General Programme Matters, items 25 and 26), the two texts were submitted to the seventeenth session of the General Conference on 15 November (17 C/106) and adopted on 16 November 1972 (Records of the General Conference, seventeenth session, vol. 1, pp. 135-154).

The Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage entered into force on 17 December 1975, three months after the date of the deposit of the twentieth instrument of ratification, acceptance or accession, in accordance with its article 33.


Text of the Instrument

Selected preparatory documents
(in chronological order)

Constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

Resolution 6.42 of UNESCO's General Conference, 3rd session (Beirut, 1948).

Resolution 6.42 of UNESCO's General Conference, 4th session (Paris, 1949).

Report of Mr. Ronald F. Lee, Rapporteur, to UNESCO's Director-General, on the meeting of experts on sites and monuments of art and history (Paris, 17 – 21 October 1949) (UNESCO/MUS/Conf.1/22, 21 November 1949).

Report of UNESCO's Director-General to the General Conference, 5th session (Florence, 1950), on measures for ensuring the cooperation of interested States in the protection, preservation and restoration of antiquities, monuments and historic sites; and possibility of establishing an international fund to subsidize such preservation and restoration (5C/PRG/6, 27 March 1950).

Project for an international convention for the protection of historic monuments and art treasures submitted by the delegation of Mexico to the General Conference, 5th session (5C/22, 26 May 1950).

Resolution 4.45 of UNESCO's General Conference, 5th session (Florence, 1950).

Note on the desirability of framing an international convention establishing an international fund for the preservation and restoration of monuments and historic sites and for the development and creation of museums and introducing a special tourist tax by the Director-General to governments of member states of UNESCO (CL/452, 20 December 1950).

Report of UNESCO's Director-General to the General Conference, 6th session (Paris, 1951), on the possibility and advisability of adopting an international convention instituting a special tourist tax for the preservation of monuments and museums (6C/PRG/10, 10 May 1951).

Supplementary report of UNESCO's Director-General to the General Conference, 6th session (Paris, 1951), on the possibility and advisability of adopting an international convention instituting a special tourist tax for the preservation of monuments and museums (6C/PRG/10 Addendum 1, 22 June 1951).

Resolution 4.34 of UNESCO's General Conference, 6th session (Paris, 1951).

Report of UNESCO's Director-General to the General Conference, 7th session (Paris, 1952), on the possibility of establishing an international fund for the maintenance of museums, monuments and collections of universal interest (7C/PRG/6, 22 August 1952).

Resolutions and decisions adopted by the Executive Board at its 60th session (Paris, 25 October – 29 November 1961), Item 11.1 (60 EX/Decisions, 22 December 1961).

Resolution 4.412 of UNESCO's General Conference, 12th session (Paris, 1962).

Study of measures for the preservation of monuments through the establishment of an international fund or by any other appropriate means by the Director-General to UNESCO's Executive Board, 65th session (29 April – 17 May 1963) (65 EX/9, 22 March 1963).

First report of the Program and External Relations Commission to UNESCO's Executive Board, 65th session (65 EX/27, 10 May 1963).

Resolutions and decisions adopted by the Executive Board at its 65 th  session (Paris,  21 April – 17 May 1963), Item 4.4.1 (65EX/Decision, 5 June 1963).

Study of measures for the preservation of monuments through the establishment of an international fund or by any other appropriate means by the Director-General to member states, national commissions and international non-governmental organizations (UNESCO/CUA/122, 28 June 1963).

Report of UNESCO's Director-General to the General Conference, 13th session (Paris, 1964) on measures for the preservation of monuments of historical and artistic value (13C/PRG/15, 16 June 1964).

Resolution 3.332 of UNESCO's General Conference, 13th session (Paris, 1964).

Resolution 3.342 of UNESCO's General Conference, 14th session (Paris, 1966).

Resolution 3.3411 of UNESCO's General Conference, 14th session (Paris, 1966).

Final report on the meeting of experts to coordinate, with a view to their international adoption, principles and scientific, technical and legal criteria applicable to the protection of cultural property, monuments and sites (Paris, 26 February – 2 March 1968) (SCH/CS/27/8, 31 December 1968).

Final report on the meeting of experts to establish an international system for the protection of monuments, groups of buildings and sites of universal interest (Paris, 21 – 25 July 1969) (SHC/MD/4, 10 November 1969)

Preliminary study of the technical and legal aspects of possible international instruments for the protection of monuments and sites of universal value by the Director-General to UNESCO's Executive Board, 84th session (Paris, 4 May – 19 June 1970) (84 EX/14, 22 April 1970).

Resolutions and decisions adopted by the Executive Board at its 84th session (Paris, 21 – 25 July 1969), Item 5.3. (84 EX/Decisions, 15 July 1970).

Preliminary study on the technical and legal aspects of a possible international instrument for the protection of monuments and sites of universal value by the Director-General to UNESCO's General Conference, 16th session (Paris, 1970) (16 C/19, 31 July 1970).

Resolution 3.412 of UNESCO's General Conference, 16th session (Paris, 1970).

Preliminary report on international instruments for the protection of monuments, groups of buildings and sites by the Director-General to member states of UNESCO (SHC/MD/17, 30 June 1971).

UN Conference on the Human Environment, Intergovernmental Working Group on Conservation, Draft Convention on Conservation of the World Heritage, (A/CONF.48/IWGC.I/3, July 1971).

Final report on international regulations for the protection of monuments, groups of buildings and sites by the Director-General to the Special Committee of Government Experts (SHC/MD/18, 21 February 1972).

Addendum 1 to the Final report on international regulations for the protection of monuments, groups of buildings and sites by the Director-General to the Special Committee of Government Experts (SHC/MD/18 Add. 1, 10 March 1972).

Addendum 2 to the Final report on international regulations for the protection of monuments, groups of buildings and sites by the Director-General to the Special Committee of Government Experts (SHC/MD/18 Add. 2, 31 March 1972).

Addendum 3 to the Final report on international regulations for the protection of monuments, groups of buildings and sites by the Director-General to the Special Committee of Government Experts (SHC/MD/18 Add. 3, 4 April 1972).

Addendum 4 to the Final report on international regulations for the protection of monuments, groups of buildings and sites by the Director-General to the Special Committee of Government Experts (SHC/MD/18 Add. 4, 11 April 1972).

Note by the General Secretariat of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment to the Special Committee of Government Experts to prepare a draft convention and a draft recommendation to member States concerning the protection of monuments, groups of buildings and sites (SHC/72-CONF.37/3, 6 April 1972).

Draft report by the Special Committee of Government Experts to prepare a draft convention and a draft recommendation to member States concerning the protection of monuments, groups of buildings and sites (SHC.72/CONF.37/19, 21 April 1972).

Addendum 1 to the Draft report by the Special Committee of Government Experts to prepare a draft convention and a draft recommendation to member States concerning the protection of monuments, groups of buildings and sites (SHC-72/CONF.37/19 Addendum, 22 April 1972).

Addendum 2 to the Draft report by the Special Committee of Government Experts to prepare a draft convention and a draft recommendation to member states concerning the protection of monuments, groups of buildings and sites (SHC-72/CONF.37/19 Add. 2).

Draft Convention for the Protection of the Cultural and Natural World Heritage, adopted by the Special Committee of Government Experts (SHC-72/CONF.37/20, 20 April 1972).

Draft Recommendation Concerning the Protection, at National Level, of the Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by the Special Committee of Government Experts (SHC-72/CONF.37/21, 22 April 1972).

Records of the General Conference, 17th session (Paris, 1972), Volume 2, Reports: Program Commissions, Administrative Commission, Legal Committee (Item 25, Item 26).

Draft Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, submitted by the Director-General to UNESCO's General Conference, 17th session (Paris, 1972) (17 C/106, 15 November 1972).

Records of the General Conference, 17th session (Paris, 1972), Volume 1, Resolutions, Recommendations (Item 28, Item 29)


The Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage entered into force on 17 December 1975. For the current participation status of the Convention, as well as information and relevant texts of related treaty actions, such as reservations, declarations, objections, denunciations and notifications, see:

Status of the Instrument