The role of ICOMOS in the World Heritage Convention

Article Index


To ensure as much as possible the proper identification, protection, conservation, and preservation of irreplaceable world heritage, the UNESCO Member States adopted in 1972 the Convention concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage (more known as the World Heritage Convention). The Convention complements national heritage conservation programmes and ensures the establishment of the World Heritage Committee and the World Heritage Fund. The World Heritage Committee shall, among other essential functions, identify, on the basis of nominations submitted by States parties to the Convention, the natural, cultural and mixed properties of exceptional universal value which are protected by the Convention and to list those sites on the World Heritage List.

ICOMOS is one of the three formal advisory bodies to the World Heritage Committee. It participates in the implementation of the Convention, along with IUCN ( the International Union for the Conservation of Nature), based at Gland (Switzerland), and ICCROM (the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property), based in Rome (Italy). ICOMOS is the professional and scientific advisor to the Committee on all aspects of the cultural heritage.

ICOMOS is in particular responsible for the evaluation of all nominations of cultural and mixed properties against the basic criterion of “outstanding universal value,” and the other criteria as specified in the Convention.

The ICOMOS procedure for evaluating nominations to the World Heritage List

There is a clearly defined annual procedure and calendar for the evaluation of nominations to the World Heritage List.

This evaluation process is coordinated by the World Heritage Unit of the ICOMOS International Secretariat, in collaboration with the ICOMOS World Heritage Working Group and the ICOMOS World Heritage Panel and involves widest possible collaboration and consultation, both in terms of the specialist expertise but also the geographical and cultural sensibilities present within the ICOMOS network.

For each nominated property, ICOMOS assesses whether it bears testimony of an outstanding universal value (whether it meets the criteria of the Operational Guidelines and the conditions of authenticity and integrity), whether legal protection is adequate and whether the management processes are satisfactory.

The preparatory work is done in several stages, including an initial study of the dossiers, consultations and the organization of a technical evaluation mission.

New nominations must be submitted by States parties to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in Paris before 1 February of each year. The World Heritage Centre checks that nomination dossiers submitted are complete and delivers them to the ICOMOS International Secretariat by 15 March of the same year.

The dossiers are then subject to an initial study to identify the various issues relating to the property and the choice of the various experts who will be called on to study the dossier (ICOMOS advisers, experts for the mission, desk reviewers).

Experts, either from within the ICOMOS network (International Scientific Committees and National Committees) or from partners organisations or other entities with specific expertise are consulted to express their opinion about the comparative analysis and the outstanding universal value of the nominated properties.

ICOMOS also seeks the advice of specialist bodies with which it maintains close relations: TICCIH (the International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage), IFLA (the International Federation of Landscape Architects) and DOCOMOMO (the International Committee for the Documentation and Conservation of Monuments and Sites of the Modern Movement).

At the same time, technical evaluation missions are organized for all properties with the aim to study the authenticity, integrity, factors affecting the property, protection, conservation and management. As a rule, ICOMOS calls on a person from the region in which the nominated property is located. In certain exceptional circumstances, often in cases in which the nature of the property is unusual, the expert may not originate from the region concerned. Technical evaluation missions are carried out jointly with IUCN for mixed properties and for some cultural landscapes. All experts have a duty of confidentiality. Their opinion about the nomination does not necessarily reflect that of the organisation; it is the ICOMOS World Heritage Panel which, after acquainting itself with all the information, analyses it and determines the organisation's position.

The World Heritage Unit at the ICOMOS International Secretariat receives the mission reports and desk reviews during the months of September and October (missions are sometimes delayed for climatic or political reasons).

Draft evaluations (in English or French) are prepared on the basis of the information contained in the nomination dossiers, mission reports, desk reviews and research. These draft evaluations are then examined by the ICOMOS World Heritage Panel during a 4- 5 day meeting held at the beginning of December of the same year. The Panel comprises the elected or co-opted Executive Committee members, representing all regions of the world and a wide range of skills and experience, as well as international experts, all members of ICOMOS chosen for their particular area of expertise based on the nominated properties. It defines the recommendations on each property and identifies the additional information requests to be sent to States Parties, if necessary. Any additional documentation received is examined by the ICOMOS World Heritage Working Group which meets in March of the following year.

Following these meetings, the evaluations are revised, translated into the two working languages of the World Heritage Committee, printed and dispatched to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre for distribution to the members of the World Heritage Committee. They are then presented to the session of the World Heritage Committee.

As an advisory body, ICOMOS makes a recommendation based on an objective, rigorous and scientific analysis. However, decisions are the responsibility of the World Heritage Committee. The process relies on the Committee members and their knowledge of the nominations and the evaluations published by the Advisory bodies.

Read here for a more detailed account of the ICOMOS evaluation procedure and for an analysis of the 2013 nominations

Involvement of ICOMOS International Scientific and National Committees

The ICOMOS National and International Scientific Committees constitute a network and an asset with remarkable potential covering all world regions and the many issues linked to heritage preservation.

The International Scientific Committees are consulted in the evaluation process, according to their area of expertise and on two specific aspects: scientific consultations on the outstanding universal value of the nominated properties and the identification of experts for the technical evaluation missions. They also play an important role in the preparation of thematic studies.

ICOMOS informs its National Committees of nominations submitted by their governments. They are also informed of the experts who will undertake the technical evaluation missions. This allows Committees to ensure that the experts can meet with representatives of the National Committees who can provide valuable clarifications on the management and state of conservation of the properties, which official sources could not provide. The role of National Committees in this process is to support the work of ICOMOS, in relation with the State Party and the expert, and to provide background technical advice.

National Committees and International Scientific Committees must always pass through the ICOMOS International Secretariat in their contacts with UNESCO and the World Heritage Centre.

Reports on the state of conservation of properties inscribed on the World Heritage List

ICOMOS takes an active part in monitoring the state of conservation and management of properties inscribed on the World Heritage List through the organization of reactive monitoring missions and advisory missions, by providing technical advice on specific issues (development projects, management plans ...) facing certain properties and also by drafting reports on the state of conservation of properties that are examined by the World Heritage Committee and based on which a recommendation is adopted. A reflection on the threats to World Heritage properties has also been conducted and tools have been implemented, for example enabling States Parties to conduct Heritage Impact Assessments to determine the potential impact of development projects on the outstanding universal value of a property.

Assessment requests for international assistance

The Convention provides for the establishment of the World Heritage Fund, made up of contributions by States Parties. ICOMOS advises the UNESCO World Heritage Centre on international assistance requests received from States Parties. Such assistance is allocated under the following headings : preparatory assistance, emergency assistance, training and technical cooperation.

The intellectual development of the Convention

ICOMOS is closely associated with all aspects of the intellectual development of the Convention. Through regional conferences and workshops and the publication of reports it has made major contributions to the development of the Global Strategy. It has played a key role in defining the concepts of authenticity and cultural landscapes. ICOMOS has been involved in several meetings working on the revision of the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention.

It published the study “Filling the gaps – An action plan for the future”, an analysis of the World Heritage List which is seen as a contribution to the further development of the Global Strategy for a credible, representative and balanced World Heritage List. ICOMOS has also been involved in the preparation of manuals and on the reflection on the concept of Outstanding Universal Value. ICOMOS’s activities include participation to programmes on climate change and on tourism.


ICOMOS gives the highest priority to its work in relation to the World Heritage Convention, since this enables the organization to mobilize its unique scientific and professional resources and make them available to all the countries of world and to all humankind, thereby fulfilling its declared objectives.

ICOMOS, May 2013

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