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Deciding what is to be protected

The 2003 Unesco Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage calls on its signatories to catalogue all cultural practices within their borders and identify those that may need protection.

Abu Dhabi // The 2003 Unesco Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage calls on its signatories to catalogue all cultural practices within their borders and identify those that may need protection. Items submitted for recognition under the "urgent safeguarding list" and a secondary "representative list" must meet the definition of "intangible heritage" as laid out in the 2003 convention.

A nominated item must be oral tradition or expression (which can be a language if it is a vehicle of a cultural tradition such as storytelling), a performing art, social practice, ritual, festive event, knowledge or practice concerning nature and the universe or traditional craftsmanship. "The convention was written because the international community decided this kind of heritage needed some attention, because a lot of movements lead to the disappearance of this heritage," said Cecile Duvelle, the head of the division of cultural objects and intangible heritage at Unesco. "The mechanisms within it will hopefully make some progress in attracting the youth and keeping some of these traditions alive."

Nominations for the representative list have to be submitted a year in advance and are examined by several subsidiary bodies before a final decision is made by the committee in the autumn. An item on the "urgent safeguarding list" must be at risk despite efforts of the community or state to save it or must be "facing grave threats as a result of which it cannot be expected to survive without immediate safeguarding".

It is hoped that the recognition will encourage young people to participate in traditional practices. Nominated cultural elements can also receive Unesco funding. According to Unesco, simply documenting local traditions and making these records available to the public will "encourage creativity and self-respect" in the communities in which they are practised. lmorris@thenational.ae

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