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controversial world heritage sites

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Author m_m
#1 | Posted: 26 Jul 2008 23:37 
considering the political stand off between thailand and cambodia since the inscription of preah vihear on the world heritage list, it is interesting how the world heritage status can spark long dormant conflicts and provoke legal cases. this may tarnish what the ideals of the outstanding universal value is all about, but it nevertheless adds to the complications, intrigues that make some sites interesting beyond the criteria that they met upon inscription. so which world heritage site do you think is the most controversial?

here are some of the site which i think are quite controversial not only from the government or public standpoint, but even among the members of the committee approving which sites are inscribed. so in that case, instead of unanimous approval, sites are inscribed by through a ballot. the list is in no particular order:

- preah vihear temple has hugged the headlines in recent weeks. border issue is the main conflict between cambodia and thailand. on the other hand, unesco maintains that the inscription was made because the nomination was technically sound, and the fact that the representative from thailand supported inscription, before he was fired for doing so

- hiroshima memorial. china and united states disassociated themselves from the inscription of this site, alluding to world war ii sentiments.

- koguryo tombs. south korea protested on china's meddling, which according to them resulted to the deferral of the north korean nomination. the chinese and north korean sites were inscribed on the same year, but separately.

- potala palace. not really much controversy when it was inscribed. but became controversial eventually from the uncontrolled development and restorations being done. critics claim that the tibetan identity of this place is being eroded and sinicized.

- las medulas. some state parties disapproved of the inscription, claiming that the landscape of devastation does not really merit a place on the list.

- w national park of niger. not really sure about the controversy behind this, but it took a vote for the site to be eventually placed on the list.

- provins. this place was inscribed despite some state parties' claim that the infastructures related to medieval fairs, the main basis for inscription, is no longer extant and other places are better preserved in showcasing the site. icomos even got dragged in, since the state parties questioned the eventual reversal in recommendation, from one that should not be inscribed, to one of inscription.

- jerusalem. the nomination was prepared by jordan, and israel sought to extend the site, but the committee deferred such actions until the status of the place is settled.

- arabian oryx sanctuary. will forever be in the hall of fame as the first site ever delisted.

- some state parties appear to downplay possibly major issues that may block the sites' bid for inscription as minor or non-issues. but right after the inscription, the issues become more apparent. examples include the bridge building in dresden elbe valley (one cannot help but think that if the site was inscribed on the list after the bridge was built, unesco might be more considerate, with just a footnote that the committee regrets the new bridge as impeding the site's value, but not enough to put in on the hot seat of being delisted). three parallel rivers also comes to mind. right after inscription, plans for major dams arose.

here are some nominations which never made it on the list due to some controversies too or are currently on the tentative list but are too controversial:

- most recent is majuli island. reports claim that there was so much political haggling instead of focusing on the technicality of the site's nomination that the effort fizzled. (hmm, quite the opposite for preah vihear, excellent nomination technically that overrode the political situation)

- karakorum national park. pakistan nominated this. but upon india's protest, this was deferred until the border dispute is settled (how about doing a preah vihear then?).

- bamiyan buddhas. it was nominated in the 1980s but was not successful. but it was certain that unesco might have taken criticism on what could have been. instead it waited until these were destroyed before proclaiming the site as of patrimony (of course, unesco is not wholly responsible, if america, the eu, and even the un couldn't do anything with the taliban then, what more can unesco?) but such a retrospect allowed for the establishment of the immediate inscriptions of sites both on the list and in danger list. then again, such an effort is more reactive than proactive. unesco will allow the heritage merit to override the technicalities of the nomination only when the danger is impending, and maybe even irreversible, as in the case of the bamiyan buddhas. such was also the case in bam, although it can be rebuilt. but note that right after the earthquake, many articles stated that bam is a world heritage site, despite not being yet officially proclaimed as such by unesco. so how much sites that have undoubtedly displayed outstanding universal value will have to be destroyed or damaged first before unesco scrambles to put them on the list?

- sites on the us tentative list. many americans and even prominent politicians have become increasingly opposed to the idea of world heritage, citing that it impedes the sovereignty of a country over the sites that are located in its territory. examples include the white sands national monument, in which the locals are really against the nomination. is this the main reason why no american sites were inscribed in more than 10 years?

on a side note, i just would like to comment on unesco's attempt to inscribed sites on the danger list due to urban encroachment and development. so what does heritage mean? is it just simply preserving the past? or is it also looking forward? if it is looking forward, then a corollary to that is how much of the past are we willing to take forward, and how much are we willing to sacrifice? for unesco, it may mean that modern development should complement and in some ways not clash with the past. unesco always shows concern when the urban skyline of a world heritage city is broken by modern development, such may even lead to the endangered list inscription. but one cannot help think that if the world heritage movement was in existence from the early-20th century, and if paris was inscribed on the list, what will they think of the eiffel tower? will they be horrified that it broke the skyline of the french capital (after all, it's the tallest structure of the time, and many people even thought it was visually ugly) to the point that it will be put on the danger list? and what next? will paris be delisted, or will the eiffel tower be dismantled? in any case, who knows, maybe gustave eiffel's prestige, fame and architectural merit maybe enought for unesco to even praise the eiffel tower as complementing the skyline. but one cannot help but think that an eyesore now might be the priceless jewel of a place in the future, so how will unesco deal with that possibility?

Author elsslots
#2 | Posted: 27 Jul 2008 02:48 
Some fine issues you bring forward, m_m!

I'd like to start constructing a connection 'Controversial at inscription'. Personally I would like to see all WHS which proved controversial at the discussions among the members of the World Heritage Committee. But we could also include these sites that have been disapproved by ICOMOS or IUCN but got in anyway at the Committee meeting (like the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine last year).
There's also another kind of controversiality, outside of the Unesco circuit: among countries or protest groups. As the latter is quite common, I would propose to limit the connection to the first two examples.

Author Solivagant
#3 | Posted: 27 Jul 2008 03:11 | Edited by: Solivagant 
Don't forget (there will be others too once we put our minds to it!)
a. Loire Valley - nearby Nuclear site
b. Blaenavon Cult Landscape - similar to Las Medulas but newer!

I also would like a connection for those sites which discriminate on the grounds of Sex, Religion or Nationality regarding entry
Mt Athos - Men Only
Bagerhat - Khan Jahan's tomb - Men Only
Fez - Great Kairaouine Mosque - Muslims only
Marrakesh - Koutoubia mosque - Muslims only

Does anyone know of any sites which, assuming they have obtained a visa to enter the country, non-nationals are not allowed to visit. I remember France used to (I think it stopped now) prevent entry to non nationals at one of its military ports (not a WHS but you get the idea). I know that some Russian towns are still "closed cities" - but I can't think of any which are WHS. I assume Kronstadt is fully open now?

It isn't good enough for someone to say regarding the Muslim sites that this is a religiuos belief which shouldn't be "criticised"
a. Mere identification of the site is a statement of fact not an inherent criticism
b. In my own personal view a site shouldn't have it both ways - if it wants to be "universal patrimony" then entry generally and to the parts which are significant for its inscription should be open (or closed) to all equally on the basis of gender, nationality and religion!
c. Since many Islamic sites ARE open it is in fact a cultural factor in just some countries

Author Assif
#4 | Posted: 27 Jul 2008 03:19 
Should we keep the connection disputed territories then?

Author elsslots
#5 | Posted: 27 Jul 2008 04:08 
I think that they are different: sites in disputed territories (f.e. Lhasa) don't have to be Controversial at inscription.
- The Chinese authorities were even praised when Lhasa was included. The same could be true for Preah Vihear (although we still haven't seen the documents of this year's discussions).
- The Genbaku Dome in Hiroshima was controversial at its inscription, but isn't in disputed territory.
- Jerusalem however probably would be both!

I see Controversial at inscription as a status only within the Unesco-microcosmos; sites can be controversial for many reasons here.
Disputed territories is something from the real world.

Author Solivagant
#6 | Posted: 27 Jul 2008 04:34 | Edited by: Solivagant 
I have never been totally happy with the "Disputed Territories" concept - how is "disputed" determined?
a. Overtly between 2 sovereign countries
b. Between a sovereign country and and an independence movement - if so how big/strong does that movement have to be and how much worldwide support does it need to have?

In what sense is Tibet's status as part of China "disputed"? Certainly its people suffer from being part of multi-national China - but then so do many other nationalities in many countries. I have mid to late 19th century British Atlases which quite clearly show Tibet as part of China - it was of interest to Britain and others to foster "independence" and China certainly "let go" for many years during its chaotic period - but in any practical sense the Tibetan question is not about which country it should be in rather than how its people should be treated within China

Is Northern Ireland "disputed" (and hence is the Giants Causeway in a disputed territory)? - not currently between the governments of UK/Eire - though the Eire Consititution claimed NI until 1998 and emotionally Eire would still regard it as awaiting a change of nation. There are of course relatively small disaffected groups which are prepared to take action to alter the status quo. Is that enough for it to be "disputed"?

If we look at India - are Manas and Kaziringa in "disputed" territory because of (small??) Assamese independence movements. There will be other sites on the list in areas subject to independence or irridentist claims of varying strengths. How do we differentiate?

Author elsslots
#7 | Posted: 27 Jul 2008 04:52 
Here is a (long!) list of all disputes in the world between sovereign countries (without Tibet, indeed).

Author meltwaterfalls
#8 | Posted: 27 Jul 2008 05:23 
To go back to the problems with the original inscription.

Liverpool - I can't remember which state parties were involved bu there were objections due to the city's role in the slave trade.

Auschwitz - I know it has been renamed at the request of the Polish government but was this a contoversial thing at the time of inscriptio. All I can find is the note saying that this was a special case and other such sites would not be considered.

Author elsslots
#9 | Posted: 27 Jul 2008 08:29 | Edited by: elsslots 
A difficult thing with this connection is that the controversy often didn't show up at the final report. I checked all of the above, and only the following are clear:
- Genbaku Dome / Hiroshima: reservations expressed by US and China in a separate annex
- Las Medulas: Thailand, Germany and Finland voted against 'result of human destructive
- W national park of niger: IUCN was against inclusion, also controversy about advocacy by the representative from Niger on a site in his own country. Of the 19 members, 4 finally voted against (Australia, Canada, Germany and the United States of America), not enough to prevent a 2/3 majority.
- Provins: several objections ('nothing has remained') started by Greece, no votes against
- Jerusalem: proposed by Jordan, and finally got in after a separate Extraordinary Session

Will add a Connection for these. Please look out for more, I think there are.

Author Solivagant
#10 | Posted: 27 Jul 2008 17:55 
For Loire Valley "Inscription opposition" history see this document
page 8

Author Durian
#11 | Posted: 30 Jul 2008 00:07 | Edited by: Durian 
I found WHC decison on Preah Vihear issue on this link, at least it is the first 32nd WHC full draft decision document released at this moment.


Author m_m
#12 | Posted: 15 Apr 2009 22:30 
hi els. can we add brasilia in the "controversial at inscription" connection? that was obvious, wonder why we overlooked this before. it was a city that was barely 30 yrs old when it was inscribed on the list, and several representatives, notably the american delegate, opposed its inscription, citing an article in the convention: examination of 20th century cities should come after all the traditional historic towns have been examined. if you interpret this in a way, this is impossible, there is an infinite number of the latter, hence 20th century settlements will never be examined, unless of course they were just referring to the particular list of nominations for a certain year.

Author m_m
#13 | Posted: 15 Apr 2009 22:33 
oh, and the avignon site also had issues. remember that some representatives opposed the nomination because it lacked homogeneity and thus, the site had to be examined and deferred for several sessions until the reps realized that it's the lack of the homogeneity and the additive quality of the site that makes it outstanding.

Author m_m
#14 | Posted: 15 Apr 2009 22:41 
my apology for the staggered postings. we can also include the chinese koguryo sites here. it was controversial in two ways: (1) there were some issues concerning the whitewashing of the facts in relation to chinese and korean histories; (2) the korean press accused the chinese of political maneuvering in order to get the dprk's own koguryo nomination deferred so that its own koguryo site will have a greater chance of getting inscribed. ironically, both were inscribed on the list in 2004, and the committee even recommended that a transfrontier site be formed.

Author elsslots
#15 | Posted: 16 Apr 2009 06:48 
the avignon site also had issues

Are you sure it was Avignon? I cannot find any info on it at the Committee report. There was some struggle on the boundaries of the designated area with ICOMOS.

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