“Our policy for heritage and cultural tourism is not a passing fancy,” said Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, while he was presiding over the opening ceremony of the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) held yesterday evening at the Peace Palace, in Phnom Penh.
The Cambodian premier also expressed Cambodia’s commitment to continue its efforts to strengthen cultural tourism. “We will do anything that threatens the sanctity of the sites of Angkor and Preah Vihear Temples or endangers their existence or outstanding universal value,” he said.
On the occasion, Samdech Techo Hun Sen announced Cambodia’s request to list Sambo Prei Kuh, Cambodia’s main pre-Angkorian site, and Koh Ker, the ephemeral capital of the Khmer empire in the 10th century, which invented the art of dynamic statuary in Asia, as new World Heritage Sites.
The prime minister further laid stress on benefits gained from inscription on the list of World Heritage that has drawn regional and global attention to the promotion, safeguarding and development of those sites to help promoting the economy and improving the living standard of people. “In economic sense, I think we should focus on the development of both tangible and intangible cultural assets by integrating this work into development process, either within regional or global framework. This will indeed help promoting sustainable development of the tourism sector, in which cultural heritage plays an important role in job creation, a factor contributing to poverty reduction and mobilizing revenue for the management and conservation of cultural assets,” underlined Samdech Techo Hun Sen. “In this regard, the Royal Government of Cambodia has introduced ‘Conversation for Development, Development for Conservation‘ policy in the tourism sector.”
According to the Cambodian premier, over the last two decades, cultural and eco-tourism have become a pillar of equitable growth and played an instrumental role in poverty reduction in Cambodia. The last two decades of sustained high growth, together with peace and macro-economic stability, has provided a new opportunity for rapid poverty reduction and enhanced living standard. In particular, poverty rate dropped from 100 percent in 1979 to 19 percent in 2011. Undoubtedly, heritage and cultural tourism are playing a substantial part in this growth. Twenty years ago, when Angkor was inscribed on the World Heritage list, the number of international visitors was just 120,000. The figure then climbed to 3.5 million in 2012, with the expectation of 4.5 million by 2015.
“However, this requires that we increase alertness. Heritage should in no way suffer from these gains. That is why our experts, together with UNESCO and Australia, have prepared a tourism management plan for Angkor and the region to ensure a balance between the imperatives of development and conservation needs in conformity with the new concept of green development,” he added.
In addition, Samdech Techo Hun Sen called for a joint conservation, stressing that heritage belongs to humanity as a whole, therefore, everyone must do his/her bit to conserve and value either tangible or intangible heritage at all places, regardless of the original nation, original race or actual location of those heritage and culture.
During the opening ceremony, the Metropolitan Museum of New York, represented by Ms. Emily Rafferty, officially returned to Cambodia two 10th-century God Statues – Sahadeva and Nakula – of the Koh Ker style, which were stolen from Cambodia in mid-1970s.
Samdech Techo Hun Sen expressed his deep gratitude to the Metropolitan Museum of New York for returning the two statues. “This act indeed indicates a high standard of professional code of conducts adhered by the Metropolitan Museum. Moreover, I would like also to thank the U.S. Government for their effort in claiming back the statue of Duryodhana, which is now subject to a lawsuit in the New York Court,” he added.
Around 1,300 delegates from more than 120 member states to the 1972 UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage have been participating in this universal event.
During this 37th session which will take place until June 27, 31 new sites from different countries around the world will be considered for registration. Actually, there were 32 new sites to be examined for registration, but Vietnam had to withdraw its request for inscription for its Cat Tien National Park as it failed to meet the WHC’s requirement.
Those 31 new sites were divided into natural properties, mixed natural and cultural properties, and cultural properties.
The natural properties include Xinjiang Tianshan (China); Great Himalayan National Park (India); Mount Etna (Italy); Mount Kenya-Lewa Wildlife Conservancy (an extension of “Mount Kenya National Park/Natural Forest, Kenya); El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve (Mexico); Namib Sand Sea (Namibia); Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary (Philippines); and Tajik National Park (Mountains of the Pamirs) (Tajikistan).
The mixed natural and cultural properties are Pimachiowin Aki (Canada); Archipel des Bijagós – Motom Moranghajogo (Guinea Bissau); Sehlabathebe National Park (Lesotho) (an extension of “uKhahlamba / Drakensberg Park”, South Africa).
The cultural properties include Red Bay Basque Whaling Station (Canada); Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces (China); Historic Monuments and Sites in Kaesong (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea); Levuka Historical Port Town (Fiji); Water features and Hercules within the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe (Germany); Hill Forts of Rajasthan (India); Golestan Palace (Islamic Republic of Iran); Cultural Landscape of Maymand (Islamic Republic of Iran); Medici Villas and Gardens (Italy); Fujisan (Japan); Town and Castle of Vianden (Luxembourg); Isandra Zoma (Madagascar); Agadez (Historic Centre of Agadez), (Niger); Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines (extension of “Wieliczka Salt Mine”, Poland), Wooden Tserkvas of the Carpathian Region in Poland and Ukraine (Poland / Ukraine); University of Coimbra – Alta and Sofia (Portugal); Al Zubarah Archaeological Site (Qatar); Bolgar Historical and Archaeological Complex (Russian Federation); Historic city of Alanya (Turkey); Ancient City of Tauric Chersonese and its Chora (5th century BC – 14th century AD, Ukraine).
Five of the above sites had already been considered for inscription in the past – Hill Forts of Rajasthan (India); Al Zubarah Archaeological Site (Qatar); Historic Monuments and Sites in Kaesong (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea); Bolgar Historical and Archaeological Complex (Russian Federation); and Tajik National Park (Tajikistan).
Up to 2012, the World Heritage List includes 962 properties forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the WHC considers as having outstanding universal value.
Four Cambodian properties have been so far listed on the World Heritage List. The Historic Site of Angkor was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1992, while Preah Reach Troap Dance (Royal Ballet) and Lakhon Sbek Thom (big shadow puppet) were proclaimed masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity respectively in 2003 and 2005, and the 11th-century Preah Vihear Temple was listed in 2008.