UNESCO General Conference adopts unanimously a new normative instrument on the preservation of documentary heritage

The preservation of documentary heritage materials is one of the daunting tasks of memory institutions worldwide. This task is becoming more and more important, not least because of the fast development of the Internet and the digital technologies as well as with the well-documented need for updated legislation at national and international levels. For UNESCO, it is beyond doubt that humanity’s documentary heritage is a fundamental expression of the richness and diversity of different cultures and traditions and its preservation is therefore considered of the utmost importance.

Two years ago, the General Conference of UNESCO invited the Director-General to prepare and submit to its 38th session, in November 2015, a draft Recommendation on the preservation of, and access to documentary heritage, including digital heritage. In order to finalize the new normative instrument, an Intergovernmental Special Committee met at UNESCO Headquarters on 1 and 2 July 2015. More than 115 experts from some 46 Member States, participated in the two-day consultation. In the discussions, it became obvious that many aspects of documentary heritage preservation and accessibility are not covered by existing heritage conventions and recommendations. As a result of this comprehensive consultative process a new normative text that covers not only heritage aspects but legal and intellectual property related aspects was elaborated.

The Deputy Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Getachew Engida, emphasized: “Our heritage is a legacy from our past. It is something we live with today and, hopefully, something that we can pass on to future generations. In every country, documentary heritage is both a record of life and history and also an irreplaceable source of creativity and inspiration. Our heritage, determines who we are, giving us both identity and the values that will guide our lives in a changing world. Yet despite its importance, there is never any guarantee that heritage will survive and be passed on to the next generation. For this reason, UNESCO has launched the Memory of the World Programme in 1992 and has engaged in an increasing number of campaigns and special initiatives designed to protect and preserve cultural and documentary heritage in Timbuktu, Iraq and Syria, to mention but a few examples”.

When the General Conference examined the Recommendation concerning the Preservation of, and Access to, Documentary Heritage including in Digital Form, all Member States took the floor in support of the new normative instrument and the General Conference adopted the proposed document without any amendments.  At the same time, it recommended  that  Member  States  initiate  appropriate  steps  to  adapt  this  new instrument to their specific contexts, disseminate it widely across their national territories, facilitate its implementation through the formulation and adoption of supporting policies, strategies and legislation. It was also decided that  the periodicity of reporting on the action Member States will take to give effect to this Recommendation will be every four years.

The new normative document of UNESCO will assist Member States both, at national and international levels and will help build partnerships for identifying appropriate solutions to threats such as the ravage of time, natural disasters, human behaviour, technology obsolescence, mobilizing resources, so that valuable collections and records may never be lost.