The Seventeenth Session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Held

Opening speech by UNESCO Director-General at the seventeenth session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage © ICHCAP

The seventeenth session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage was held at Sofitel Rabat Jardin des Roses in Rabat, Kingdom of Morocco, from 28 November through 3 December 2022. The Intergovernmental Committee, a sovereign decision-making body of the 2003 Convention composed of twenty-four States Parties to the Convention meets in an ordinary session at the end of every year, and about 1,200 delegates representing more than 132 countries, out of 180 States Parties to the 2003 Convention, as well as accredited NGOs, category 2 centers, and communities, gathered to examine and adopt agenda items tabled for the session. The discussions were conducted by H.E. Mr. Samir Addahre, Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of the Kingdom of Morocco to UNESCO, with Mr. Ramiro Maurice Silva Rivera (Peru) as Rapporteur and delegates from Switzerland, Czechia, Panama, Republic of Korea, and Botswana as Vice-Chairs.

First of all, forty-eight out of fifty-six elements, programs and requests were inscribed, selected or approved by the Committee after carefully examining the recommendations from the Evaluation Body (EB). In this cycle, a total of forty files (71%) were recommended for inscription, selection, or approval, and fifteen files (27%) were recommended for referral. Among them, seven files were tabled for discussion and inscribed on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (RL) while two were withdrawn by the submitting states. Interestingly, the EB presented a recommendation with two options of “to inscribe” and “not to inscribe” for the file submitted by Germany. “The practice of Modern dance in Germany” was, however, inscribed on the RL with majority support. Meanwhile, there was an intense debate over the application standards and methodologies of dialogue process that has been piloted since 2019. Having noted that nine out of eleven files were recommended for inscription through dialogues initiated between the EB and submitting states in this cycle, a decent number of delegates from Electoral Group III (Latin America and Caribbean) favored an extensive application of this system. On the contrary, those from Electoral Group I (Western Europe and North America) and II (Eastern Europe) recalled the backdrop to the initial application of dialogue process and requested the floor to respect the recommendations from the EB, maintaining that the dialogue remain supplementary to current evaluation system. And on that note, the EB clarified that the existing dialogue is a practical, complementary tool designed to solve problems through a question-and-answer session for simple technical errors observed in the nominations and further requested that the Committee present working principles and guidelines for any rules applicable to the dialogue process. The EB also made promises to exercise due diligence to comply with fair standards in preparation of its recommendations as prescribed in the 2003 Convention and its Operational Directives.

The update on the reflection on the broader implementation of Article 18 of the Convention was also shared through the session. Whereas particular concerns have been raised about the under-use of the Register of Good Safeguarding Practices, this new initiative was launched to explore the full potential of Article 18, which constitutes the backbone of the Register, with a contribution by Sweden in September 2021 in the form of an additional contribution to UNESCO. The first step would involve a consultation with experts through convening a category VI meeting in the first half of 2023, with an aim to address three reflection topics, including the potential ways to improve the access to and the visibility of the Register of Good Safeguarding Practices, as well as the issues surrounding the creation of an ‘observatory’ for sharing good safeguarding practices. The second step would include an open-ended intergovernmental working group in the second half of 2023, which will mainly review and propose draft amendments to the Operational Directives. The draft proposal will later be tabled for discussion and approval at the eighteenth session of the Intergovernmental Committee to be held in Botswana in December 2023. With the final adoption of the draft amendment at the tenth session of the General Assembly of the States Parties to the 2003 Convention, we expect to see the new system coming into effect as of June 2024.

Other major items on the agenda include a report on the progress of thematic initiatives on living heritage and sustainable development. With rapid changes and continued disturbance of ICH safeguarding environment, there has been a growing demand for research and studies on various issues surrounding living heritage. In response to this, UNESCO has initiated the development of thematic initiatives pertaining to (i) the economic dimensions of ICH safeguarding, (ii) ICH safeguarding and climate change, and (iii) ICH safeguarding in urban contexts. Drafting the guidelines and policy recommendations for respective areas of thematic initiatives, UNESCO has shared the progress made to date and listened to the opinions of Committee members. While multiple countries appreciated that the initiatives helped suggest the importance of ICH and its context in modern society, UNESCO announced that the recommendations by the EB on the safeguarding measures that address the risk of de-contextualization and over-commercialization of elements will be rolled out in a guidance note for communities and States Parties as of 2023.

The case of the ‘Processional giants and dragons in Belgium and France’ was also a cause célèbre during the session. Originally proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005 and then incorporated on the RL as a multinational inscription by Belgium and France in 2008, the element faced strong accusations of racism over the ‘Sauvage’ character of the Ducasse of the town of Ath, Belgium in 2019. Despite such criticisms, ‘Sauvage’ still appeared on the recent Ducasse of the Ath held for the first time after the COVID-19 pandemic. In an “enhanced follow-up” to the issues raised, UNESCO tabled this item on an agenda for discussion of the Committee. The majority of Committee members maintained that the ‘Sauvage’ character undermines the respect for human dignity presented in the 2003 Convention and therefore, requested an immediate removal of the Ducasse of the Ath from the element inscribed on the RL. However, some members asked for more time for the relevant communities, groups, and individuals to make changes themselves, arguing that ICH should even reflect such changes in the social and historical context. That said, the Ducasse of the Ath was instantly removed from the element with the adoption of a new paragraph, as most of the Committee members consistently and categorically denied the acceptability of the ‘Sauvage’ character. Attention is also drawn to the proposal from Switzerland that requests local communities to take ‘Sauvage’ out from the Ducasse of the Ath regardless of its removal from the element.

The EB for the 2023 cycle was established with a third of its members replaced by election. Three vacant seats were scheduled to be filled for the 2023 to 2026 cycles, but the election of Ethiopia as a Committee member for the Electoral Group V(a) ended the mandate of the incumbent member at the ninth session of the General Assembly. After the election held on the last day of the meeting, Ms. Evrim OLCER OZUNEL (Türkiye) was elected for Electoral Group I; Expert, Mr. Rimvydas LAUZIKAS for the Electoral Group II; Expert, and the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Ugada (CCFU) for the Electoral Group V(a); NGO. The vacancy in Electoral Group V(a); Expert was directly filled by Ms. Tiana Lalaina RAZAFIMANANTSOA due to a single candidacy. The newly elected experts and NGO will examine States Parties’ nominations for inscription on the RL and Urgent Safeguarding List (USL) as well as proposals for the Register of Good Safeguarding Practices from 2023 through 2026.

Lastly, UNESCO announced that sixty out of eighty-two files will be considered for the 2023 cycle, including sixty-seven new files received from submitting States by March 2022 and fifteen backlog files from previous cycles. Among them, forty-seven are national files and thirteen are multinational ones. As Botswana expressed its desire to host the next session, the eighteenth session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage will be held in Gaborone, Botswana, from 4 through 9 December 2023.

Various side-events and activities were also offered throughout the session. On the day before the session, ICH NGO Forum Symposium 2022 was held with theme ‘Living Heritage, Climate Change and the Environment’, followed by the opening ceremony at the Royal Club Equestre Dar Essalam by the Kingdom of Morocco as the host country of the Intergovernmental Committee meeting. On the first day, the opening ceremony of 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, attracted much attention with participation of Secretary Mr. Tim Curtis of UNESCO Living Heritage Entity as well as Administrator Mr. Choi Eung-Chon of the Cultural Heritage Administration of the Republic of Korea. On the second day, a working session with the facilitators network of the global capacity-building programme was held along with the first information session on the resource needs of the Convention focused on the capacity building for ICH safeguarding. The third day mainly featured a roundtable on safeguarding living heritage in urban contexts while the fourth day held the second information session on the resource needs of the Convention with the topic of living heritage and education. On the fifth day, an exchange session with UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs and regional university networks in the field of living heritage was held to discuss and share varied issues surrounding the ICH safeguarding. Other exhibitions were also available on traditional carpet of Rabat, old caftans, and knowledge related to earthen architecture prepared by the Moroccan government, along with a demonstration of calligraphy art by Saudi Arabia. It was also an absolute eye-opener to experience various ICH elements from different countries, including coffee from Brazil, tea from China, and cay from Azerbaijan and Türkiye.

The overall results and other details of the seventeenth session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage are available at