The Ninth Session of the General Assembly of the 2003 Convention Held

The ninth session of the General Assembly of the 2003 Convention © ICHCAP

The ninth session of the General Assembly of the States Parties to the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage was held from 5 to 7 July 2022 at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France. As the sovereign body of the Convention, the General Assembly meets in an ordinary session every two years, and about 500 delegates representing more than 145 countries, out of 180 States Parties to the 2003 Convention, gathered for the session to discuss and adopt agenda items and requests from the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. The debates were conducted by H.E. Ms. Junever M. Mahilum-West, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of the Philippines, with Ms. Daniela Rodriguez Uribe (Colombia) as Rapporteur and delegates from Belgium, Croatia, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Madagascar, and Syrian Arab Republic as Vice-Chairs.

First of all, the fruits of long-discussed results on the global reflection on the listing mechanisms of the 2003 Convention came into the spotlight. The recommendations, developed out of the three open-ended intergovernmental working group meetings for improving various aspects of the listing mechanisms, were duly reflected in the proposed revisions to the Operational Directives. They were followed with the approval at the two recent Intergovernmental Committee sessions and finally adopted as agenda item 9 during this session. This has fine-tuned the working methods of nomination and follow-up procedures with several important decisions on i) the number of files for examination to be fixed at sixty per cycle; ii) priority (0) codified in the paragraph 34 of the Operational Directives; and iii) the new procedures for transfer, removal, extension, and reduction included in the reformed listing mechanism. Now that further human and financial resources would be required to accommodate these new requests, the Secretariat was asked to draft a new budget plan to the Eighteenth session of the Intergovernmental Committee to be placed on the table for the discussion and decision by the tenth session of the General Assembly.

Another major items on the agenda were issues surrounding the accreditation of new NGOs to act in an advisory capacity to the Committee. With several concerns raised over two NGOs in 16.COM, the Committee decided to defer the examination of their accreditation requests to the General Assembly based on the information provided prior to the meeting. After long heated discussions, the General Assembly decided to accredit the Institute for Intangible Cultural Heritage IPACIM to act in an advisory capacity to the Committee and invite the Direct Gradual Development, Civil Association to resubmit, as it was not possible to ascertain whether the submitted request satisfies the criteria for such accreditation. Meanwhile, many countries expressed strong concerns about the unbalanced geographical representation of accredited NGOs throughout the meeting. As a new apprach to improve its geographical balance and encourage non-States Parties to ratify the 2003 Convention, one of the delegates proposed a revision that allows only the NGOs from States Parties to the 2003 Convention to be accredited and eligible for the Evaluation Body. Where the General Assembly was largely divided into pros and cons, a decent number of delegates from Electoral Group III (Latin America and Caribbean), IV (Asia-Pacific), V-a (Africa), and V-b (Arab States) favored this suggestion with the argument that States Parties that legally fulfill the duties of the 2003 Convention shall only be entitled to the collateral benefits because an accredited NGO’s hands-on experiences gained from being a member of the Evaluation Body can potentially help strengthen the national capacity for ICH safeguarding. However, those from Electoral Group I (Western Europe, North America) and II (Eastern Europe) opposed to this idea, claiming that the NGOs should be dissociated from States Parties as they shall be evaluated and accredited based on their individual competences in relevant fields of expertise. On the last day, a separate consultation meeting was chaired by Ethiopia and Japan, with participation from two to three Member States from each electoral group, to bridge the gap between the two ideas and finally, a revised resolution was recommended and adopted with a request for attention on the domicile of accredited NGOs when electing members of Evaluation Body, considering the discussion of this meeting.

The procedure followed for the inscription of inscribe Haitian joumou soup on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity was also endorsed on an exceptional basis. While questions had been raised over the validity of fast-track procedures, many countries strongly expressed their support for the inscription as a gesture of solidarity for Haiti and its people suffering from the aftermath of natural disasters. They also argued that the inscription shall provide a good example of the flexibility of the 2003 Convention exercised on humanitarian grounds, but some delegates called for a clear definition of ‘extreme emergency’ in Article 17.3 as well as the legal grounds for applying fast-track procedures in such cases. That said, there was no disagreement on the inscription per se, and a revised resolution was adopted with the final endorsement of the procedures on an exceptional basis.

On the last day, half of the Member States of the Committee was replaced. Twelve new members were elected for a four-year term, from 2022 to 2026. The seats had been distributed in proportion to the number of States Parties from each electoral group. As a result of the election, Germany was elected from Group I (Western Europe and North America); Slovakia and Uzbekistan from Group II (Eastern Europe); Paraguay from Group III (Latin America and Caribbean); Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, and Vietnam from Group IV (Asia and Pacific); Angola, Burkina Faso, and Ethiopia from Group V(a) (Africa), and lastly, Mauritania from Group V(b) (Arab States). In the Asia-Pacific, five members of the Committee, including four new electees and the Republic of Korea, will represent forty States Parties from the region and join in making important decisions for the effective implementation of the 2003 Convention on their behalf.

In addition, special arrangements were made to align the Rules of Procedure of the General Assembly with a set of model rules of procedure for the assemblies of the States Parties to UNESCO’s culture conventions. In celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the Convention in the year 2023, Member States shared their strategies and plans to organize national and community-level events and activities to promote the objectives of the 2003 Convention.

Launching event of the #HeritageAlive publication and special exhibition on the UNESCO MOOC on living heritage and sustainable development © ICHCAP

Various side-events and activities were also offered throughout the General Assembly. On the first day, ICH NGO Forum hosted a roundtable discussion on ICH and Human Security. The launching event of the #HeritageAlive book, Traditional Musical Instruments, Sharing Experiences from the Field was held by the ICH NGO Forum and ICHCAP with more than fifty participants representing different accredited NGOs and communities. On the second day, the European Network of Focal Points for the 2003 Convention gathered to share ideas and develop the plans and future work of the network, and the UNESCO Living Heritage Entity presented “Toolkit for Requesting International Assistance from the ICH Fund.” Lastly, a special exhibition on the UNESCO Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), recently developed by UNESCO and ICHCAP on the theme of living heritage and sustainable development, was held on three days with the generous support of the Cultural Heritage Administration of the Republic of Korea and attracted much attention from participants of the General Assembly.

The overall results and other details of the ninth session of the General Assembly are available at