The Role of International Organisations

Paul Drury

We are all familiar with the acronyms of international organisations like UNESCO, but perhaps less clear about their status and aims, particularly where the conservation of our national heritage is concerned. This article outlines the origins and roles of the relevant bodies, some current issues, and the texts for which they are responsible. These fall into three main categories: Conventions, produced by intergovernmental organisations, which are legally binding on states that ratify them; Recommendations, also produced by intergovernmental organisations, but setting out advice and good practice; and Charters, usually produced by non-governmental organisations (or 'NGOs') like ICOMOS, whose force, though considerable, is moral rather than legal.

All the organisations have informative Internet sites from which more details and copies of the relevant Conventions, Recommendations and Charters can be obtained.


UNESCO - The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation - was established in 1945 and is based in Paris. Since its campaign to rescue the Nubian monuments in the 1960s, it has worked to build international solidarity to protect our heritage. It is most obviously associated with the 1972 Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, under which 'World Heritage Sites' of 'universal cultural value' are designated. UNESCO is also responsible for the (Hague) Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the event of armed conflict (1954), and for conventions concerning the illegal movement of cultural property (including UNIDROIT). It is currently attempting to develop a convention on the protection of underwater heritage.

ICCROM - The International Centre for the study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property - is an intergovernmental body set up in 1956 and located in Rome. It provides expert technical advice on how to conserve sites on the World Heritage List, as well as training in restoration techniques. ICCROM has also set up an international database of conservation training courses, accessible via its website (see Website list).

ICOMOS - The International Council on Monuments and Sites - is a non-governmental organisation dedicated to the conservation of the world's historic monuments and sites, based in Paris. It was founded in 1965 to promote the doctrine and the techniques of conservation, following the adoption of the Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites - the 'Venice Charter'. Today it has National Committees in over 90 countries, including the UK, membership being open to those qualified in a profession in the field of conservation.

The organisation is UNESCO's principal advisor on heritage conservation, including the evaluation of cultural properties proposed for inscription on the World Heritage List. ICOMOS seeks to establish international standards for the preservation, restoration, and management of the cultural environment. Many have been promulgated as sector-specific Charters, including those on historic gardens and landscapes (Florence, 1982), historic towns and urban areas (Washington, 1987), the archaeological heritage (1990) and the underwater cultural heritage (1996). The International Training Committee (CIF) seeks to establish and promote standards in conservation training, as well as promoting international co-operation and exchange in this field.


The COUNCIL OF EUROPE, based in Strasbourg, is an inter-governmental organisation, founded in 1949 to 'achieve a greater unity between its Members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage, and facilitating their economic and social progress'. Membership has grown from 10 countries in 1949 to 41 today. Its main roles are to strengthen democracy, human rights and the rule of law throughout its member states, and enhance Europe's common cultural heritage in all its diversity.

The decision-making body of the Council of Europe is the Committee of [Foreign] Ministers of the member states, advised by the Parliamentary Assembly and specialised committees. These include the Council for Cultural Co-operation (CDCC), responsible for action under the European Cultural Convention (1954). The CDCC is currently supported by four specialised committees, including the Cultural Heritage Committee (CC-PAT), as well as ad hoc working groups.

The Cultural Heritage Committee is responsible for monitoring the Convention for the Protection of the Architectural Heritage of Europe (Granada, 1985), and the European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (Valletta, Malta, 1992, a revision of the original of 1969). A draft European Landscape Convention is currently under consideration, bringing together cultural and environmental interests in the management of both urban and rural areas, and emphasising the importance of public involvement. Twenty Recommendations and Resolutions on a wide range of cultural heritage issues have been made over the past 30 years, on subjects as diverse as heritage funding, 20th century and industrial heritage, disaster planning, documentation, education, and movable heritage property.

The Council of Europe was responsible for European Architectural Heritage Year in 1975. Twenty-five years on, in September 1999, it launched a year-long campaign Europe: A Common Heritage. The aim is to develop greater awareness of the historic environment, the values it conveys, and its potential to contribute to social cohesion, democratic citizenship and sustainable development. There is an ongoing range of educational and participatory programmes. The most significant is European Heritage Days: in 1998, there were more than 19 million visits to historic buildings and sites, most not normally accessible to the public, across 41 countries. A comparative database of heritage legislation and policy in all European countries,, is being developed.

The EUROPEAN UNION (EU), based in Brussels, originated in the Treaty of Rome (1957); the UK joined in 1973 and membership now stands at 15 countries. Formal EU 'competence' in cultural matters came only with the Maastricht Treaty of 1993 which introduced as a new objective of EU action '[to make] a contribution to…the flowering of the cultures of the Member States'. It may offer 'aid to promote culture and heritage conservation', and should seek to '[bring] the common cultural heritage to the fore'. Support for 'pilot projects' in architectural conservation, as well as training and cultural events, has so far been modest, most recently under the Raphael programme. However, from January 2000 this has been replaced by Culture 2000, a single 'framework programme' covering the whole spectrum of cultural co-operation. Despite an apparent emphasis in initial information on contemporary creative arts, the programme certainly includes the cultural heritage. It is well worth keeping abreast of current themes and calls for proposals.

To encourage and assist successful applications to EU cultural programmes, including Culture 2000, there is an official UK Cultural Contact Point, Euclid International ( (see Useful Contacts)), but this may change in 2000.

Other European Union programmes, concerned primarily with, for example, education and training, technology and regional development, can provide support for the conservation of the built heritage. The 5th RTD (Research, Technology development and Demonstration) framework programme includes the particularly significant theme The City of Tomorrow and Cultural Heritage. A specific issue is best practice in the sustainable protection, conservation and management of the built heritage and its integration in the modern urban context. The ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) is aimed at reducing inequalities between regions or social groups, and can be a source of finance for regeneration projects involving historic buildings in eligible areas.

EUROPA NOSTRA, based in The Hague, was founded in 1963. It is an umbrella organisation consisting of more than 200 NGOs involved in the heritage field, 100 local and regional authorities and about 1,000 individual members from 35 European countries. In 1991 it merged with the International Castles Institute. The main aims of Europa Nostra are the protection and enhancement of the European architectural and natural heritage, as well as the encouragement of high architectural standards in sensitive areas.

Europa Nostra runs an annual Award Scheme, presenting medals and diplomas to up to 40 projects which make a distinguished contribution to the conservation and enhancement of Europe's architectural and natural heritage. Eligible projects are:

• the restoration of buildings
• the adaptation of old buildings to new uses, preserving their original character
• the restoration and conservation of parks, gardens and wider cultural landscapes
• sympathetic new construction in conservation areas and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

Council of Europe
for cultural heritage
for the Campaign
European Union

Euclid International
Europa Nostra

The Building Conservation Directory, 2000


PAUL DRURY FSA ARICS IHBC is a Chartered Building Surveyor who turned to archaeology and architectural history before joining English Heritage. He left in 1997 as Director of London Region to set up his own consultancy in Historic Environment Policy and Practice. He is the UK representative on the Council of Europe Cultural Heritage Committee.

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