# 521  

January 2005



World Heritage Areas: A Critical Analysis


by Ryan Balis

 

Our nation's most valued landmarks remind us of the liberty, strength, and justice of America at its best.

Yet, unfortunately, politics - international politics, to be exact - is making use of long-standing national landmarks we think of as distinctly and unambiguously American: The Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park, to name a few.

Since 1972, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) - the cultural arm of the U.N. - has designated 22 sites in the U.S. and some 788 sites worldwide as cultural or natural sites of "world heritage."
1

UNESCO describes these extraordinary buildings, monuments, and natural parks as being of "outstanding value to humanity,"2 and their preservation, therefore, a matter of global concern. Administered from its headquarters in Paris, UNESCO enforces international protection of World Heritage sites under the terms of the 1972 World Heritage Treaty, 3 which the U.S. was the first nation to ratify in 1973.4

When a site is designated a "World Heritage Site," it does not become the property of the U.N. Indeed, ceding formal authority of U.S. territory to an outside power would violate long-established principles of national sovereignty. The government of the country hosting the site has legal authority and is, ultimately, responsible for its care.5

UNESCO's monitoring of the condition of sites deemed World Heritage is supposedly advisory and limited to technical or logistical assistance. The major "carrot" of World Heritage designation is the increased levels of tourism its prestige generates; the sanction of de-listing a site from the heritage roster is the main "stick." A site's removal has thus far not occurred, though, chiefly because, as Professor Jeremy Rabkin of Cornell University rightly points out, "there is no way to prevent a country from continuing to advertise a de-listed site as of 'world heritage' quality."6

Instead, UNESCO issues the equivalent of a "yellow card" by categorizing sites it considers mismanaged or threatened as a "World Heritage Site in Danger" - a label that it then uses to generate international publicity about a site's deteriorating condition.7 Subtle enough, but this indirect power of a supposed "moral authority" can be used in bad faith, particularly at the local level, to interfere in domestic disputes.8

In 1995, the World Heritage Committee designated Yellowstone National Park a "World Heritage Site in Danger" after the New World Mine was proposed on a mix of private and public land three miles from the park. A coalition of environmental groups claimed that the mine's operation - which would have provided 280 jobs in a site containing an estimated $650 million of gold and other minerals - would pollute streams leading into the park.9

The Clinton Administration allowed U.N. bureaucrats to enforce a 12-million-acre "buffer zone" around the 2.3-million-acre park.10 In the end, what should have created revenue cost U.S. taxpayers $65 million in compensation costs for a government buyout that closed the mine and paid for its cleanup.11

Israel has twice witnessed its management of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls thwarted by the U.N. In the early 1980s, UNESCO - part of the body that once equated Zionism with racism12 - permitted Jordan to nominate the city as World Heritage, although Israel governed the city and was not a party to the World Heritage Convention. The Israeli government, therefore, had virtually no say when, within a year, Jerusalem became listed as a site "in danger," a designation it retains today.13

UNESCO regulations now permit only the host country to nominate a site for World Heritage. Yet, anti-Israel politics undeniably played a role in the listing of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls.14

Despite national sovereignty concerns, some governments seek World Heritage inclusion because it enables them to receive grants from the U.N.'s World Heritage Fund. However, beyond advisory sessions or other such technical assistance, the helping promise of World Heritage is ambiguous. An annual budget of roughly $4 million - the majority of which comes from member state dues - naturally limits assistance to areas of greatest need: Sites in developing countries in Africa and Asia and those damaged by natural disaster or war. In fact, sites in desperate need of restoration receive not more than $50,000, which is the cap in emergency aid set in the fund.15

With direct U.N. aid limited, private resources must spearhead the conservation effort. David Packard, co-founder of the Hewlett-Packard Co., is credited with saving the Zeugma mosaics in Turkey from ruin. (Mercedes-Benz also donated $6,000 to this effort.) Elsewhere, the World Monuments Fund (WMF) raised $15.3 million from private businesses and distributed this to 400 sites in 2003.
16

However, more such private resources are needed, and the private sector has shown to be very willing to offer financial help. Yet, UNESCO, as a multi-state-governed organization, has been slow to reach out to businesses and philanthropists. A scheme termed Partnerships for Conservation (PACT) launched by UNESCO in 2002 to generate private donations has generated only minor success.17 (Perhaps UNESCO would secure greater private support if businesses and individuals were encouraged to donate directly to conservation projects instead of directly to a U.N.-managed fund.)

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan courageously withdrew the U.S. from UNESCO to protest its radical agenda and budgetary mismanagement (Britain followed suit from 1985-1997). This absence continued until 2003, when President Bush, saying his Administration sought "to express America's firm commitment to uphold and promote human rights, tolerance and learning worldwide," re-joined the organization.18

However, re-entry came at a staggering price: 22 percent of UNESCO's budget ($71 million in 2004, plus a promised contribution of $60 million) is paid by American taxpayers. It is much to ask the American people to accept funding an organization that grants the U.S. only a single vote in its proceedings.19 The recent U.N. Oil for Food scandal underscores why the U.S. should not hesitate withdrawing from an arm of the U.N. in which few Americans have confidence.

What then should be the course of action for Americans who want to limit the scope of perceived United Nations authority over our national landmarks?

The House of Representatives approved the American Land Sovereignty Protection Act in 1999. The measure required congressional approval before any more U.S. properties are designated as U.N. World Heritage Areas. The Senate failed to even vote on the bill.20 Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist could rectify this injustice, and should be encouraged to do so, though the House would be required to vote again before the measure would be presented to the President.

An alternative to adoption of a renewed American Land Sovereignty Protection Act could be a concurrent resolution expressed by Congress reminding the U.N. of Article 6, Paragraph 1 of the World Heritage Treaty. This passage affirms that the sovereignty of the state on which a World Heritage site is situated will be respected.21 The last Congress failed to act on such a resolution (introduced by Rep. Ron Paul of Texas), which also called for Congress to again withdraw the U.S. from UNESCO.22

Congress should act to make it clear to the U.N. that the authority to manage U.S. lands rests exclusively with the American people.

We should preserve our cultural and natural heritage for future generations to enjoy by controlling or repairing the damage caused by overcrowding, theft, and weather.
23 But managing "heritage" at the global level is not only economically impractical, but it also confuses the distinctness of American heritage with what the first President Bush called a "new world order."

Landmarks and memorials within U.S. territorial boundaries belong to the American people. The U.S. must control these without outside interference or unsummoned advice.

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Ryan Balis is a policy analyst at The National Center for Public Policy Research. Comments may be sent to [email protected].



Footnotes:

1 "Partnerships for Conservation," United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Centre, Paris, France, available at http://whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm?cid=38 as of December 7, 2004; "New Finds; No Funds; Archaeology in Turkey," Economist (U.S.), June 19, 2004, p. 82.

2 "How We Work," United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Centre, Paris, France, available at http://whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm?cid=34 as of December 7, 2004.

3 "UNESCO World Heritage Convention," United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Centre, Paris, France, available at http://whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm?cid=182 as of December 7, 2004.

4 "State Parties to the Convention," United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Centre, Paris, France, available at http://whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm?cid=157 as of December 7, 2004.

5 Testimony of Professor Jeremy A. Rabkin of the Department of Government, Cornell University before the Committee on Resources, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C., June 10, 1997, available at http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/archives/105cong/fullcomm/jun10.97/rabkin.htm as of December 7, 2004.

6 Testimony of Professor Jeremy A. Rabkin of the Department of Government, Cornell University before the Committee on Resources, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C., June 10, 1997, available at http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/archives/105cong/fullcomm/jun10.97/rabkin.htm as of December 7, 2004.

7 "Ruins on the Rack; World Heritage Sites," Economist (US), June 19, 2004; "New Finds; No Funds; Archaeology in Turkey," Economist (U.S.), June 19, 2004, p. 82.

8 "About the List of World Heritage in Danger," United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Centre, Paris, France, available at http://whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm?cid=158&l=en as of December 7, 2004; Testimony of Professor Jeremy A. Rabkin of the Department of Government, Cornell University before the Committee on Resources, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C., June 10, 1997, available at http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/archives/105cong/fullcomm/jun10.97/rabkin.htm as of December 7, 2004.

9 Testimony of Kathleen Benedetto, National Wilderness Institute, before the Subcommittee on Forests and Public Management, Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, United States Senate, May 26, 1999, available at http://www.nwi.org/Testimony/testmay99.html as of December 7, 2004; John F. Harris, "Near Yellowstone, a Deal that Saves the Land; Vacationing Clinton Touts Bargain between Mining Interests and Environmentalists," Washington Post, Aug. 13, 1996, p. A4.

10 Charles Fernandez and Jeff Selle, "The U.N. Goes West," Bonner County Daily Bee, Aug. 11, 1996, available at http://amprom.org/documents_pages/ungoeswest.html as of December 7, 2004.

11 Joe Marquette, "Yellowstone Mining Deal Scrapped; Clinton Announces Pact in Park," Chicago Sun-Times, Aug. 13, 1996.

12 The text of U.N. Security Council Resolution 3379 states the following: "Determines that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination." United Nations Security Council, "Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination," Resolution 3379, 13th Session, November 10, 1975, available at http://www.cinu.org.mx/biblioteca/documentos/palestina/ares3379.htm as of December 7, 2004.

13 "World Heritage in Danger List," United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Centre, Paris, France, available at http://whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm?cid=86 as of December 7, 2004; "New Finds; No Funds; Archaeology in Turkey," Economist (U.S.), June 19, 2004, p. 82.

14 Testimony of Professor Jeremy A. Rabkin of the Department of Government, Cornell University before the Committee on Resources, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C., June 10, 1997, available at http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/archives/105cong/fullcomm/jun10.97/rabkin.htm as of December 7, 2004.

15 "Ruins on the Rack; World Heritage Sites," Economist (US), June 19, 2004; "New Finds; No Funds; Archaeology in Turkey," Economist (U.S.), June 19, 2004, p. 82.

16 "Ruins on the Rack; World Heritage Sites," Economist (U.S.), June 19, 2004.

17 "New Finds; No Funds; Archaeology in Turkey," Economist (U.S.), June 19, 2004, p. 82.

18 "About U.S. and UNESCO," U.S. Department of State, Washington D.C., available at http://www.state.gov/p/io/unesco/usunesco/ as of December 7, 2004; Nile Gardiner and Jennifer A. Marshall, "Advancing U.S. Interests at UNESCO," Heritage Foundation Executive Memorandum #919, April 5, 2004, available at http://www.heritage.org/Research/InternationalOrganizations/em919.cfm as of December 7, 2004.

19 Ibid.; House Congressional Resolution 443, 108th Congress, 2nd Session, June 3, 2004.

20 Testimony of Kathleen Benedetto, National Wilderness Institute, before the Subcommittee on Forests and Public Management, Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, United States Senate, May 26, 1999, available at http://www.nwi.org/Testimony/testmay99.html as of December 7, 2004.

21 The text to Article 3, paragraph 1 states: "Whilst fully respecting the sovereignty of the States on whose territory the cultural and natural heritage mentioned in Articles 1 and 2 is situated, and without prejudice to property right provided by national legislation, the States Parties to this Convention recognize that such heritage constitutes a world heritage for whose protection it is the duty of the international community as a whole to co-operate." - "UNESCO World Heritage Convention," United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Centre, Paris, France, available at http://whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm?cid=182 as of December 7, 2004.

22 House Congressional Resolution 443, 108th Congress, 2nd Session, June 3, 2004.

23 Peter Neville, Hadley, "Heritage Lost: UNESCO's World Heritage List is Intended to Help Preserve Historic Sites, but in China, Inclusion on the List Can Be the Kiss of Death," National Post (Canada), December 7, 2002, p. B1; "Ruins on the Rack; World Heritage Sites," Economist (US), June 19, 2004.


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