Switzerland ratifies UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage


Paris, 25 October 2019 - Alain Berset, the member of Switzerland’s Federal Council in charge of the Federal Department of Home Affairs, presented to UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay the instruments of ratification of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, which has been protecting the cultural heritage of submerged  wrecks and remains since its adoption in 2001.

Although Switzerland is a landlocked country, it has a significant underwater heritage in its lakes and rivers. The Swiss Confederation has a longstanding commitment to underwater archaeology and is known for the quality of its research and the rigour of its scientific methodology. The ratification of the Convention, which will formally take effect in three months, strengthens international cooperation in this area. Switzerland will thus become the 62nd State Party to the Convention, and a State Party to all UNESCO's cultural conventions.

Underwater cultural heritage refers to traces of human activity that have been partially or totally submerged for at least a century. The Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage constitutes the international community’s response to combat looting and commercial exploitation of underwater cultural, historical or archaeological heritage. The States Parties to the Convention thus recognize the need to ensure the protection for submerged heritage as for terrestrial heritage. Designed to strengthen legal protection, cooperation among stakeholders, awareness and response capacities, the Convention has been ratified by nearly one third of UNESCO’s Member States.

The Director-General of UNESCO welcomed Switzerland's ratification and called on more countries to follow as soon as possible so as to reinforce the efficiency of the Underwater Heritage Convention. “Underwater heritage is essential to understanding our common history. The preservation of this heritage is crucial at a time when it is threatened by the impact of human activities and the effects of climate change,” she said.

Mr Berset took the opportunity of his visit to UNESCO to open, alongside Ms Azoulay, an International Conference on Architectural Competitions bringing together the International Union of Architects (UIA) and the Architects' Council of Europe (ACE). A culture of quality construction is the main theme of the conference, a concept that Switzerland brought to the forefront of the international scene with the adoption in 2018 of the Davos Declaration on the same theme by the European Ministers of Culture.