In 2016, the Netherlands decided to ratify the 2001 UNESCO Underwater Convention for the Protection of Underwater Heritage. This process is now being prepared. From the 29th of June until the 1st of July 2017 a ICLAFI - ICUCH Symposium was organised with the title: 'The UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage: how do we make it work?'. The organisation of this two-day conference was in the hands of ICOMOS Netherlands, ICLAFI (ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Legal, Administrative and Financial Issues) and ICUCH (ICOMOS International Committee on the Underwater Cultural Heritage). The Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands organised and contributed to this meeting because we want to encourage the international exchange of knowledge on this subject.
The 2001 UNESCO Underwater Convention offers a legal framework to regulate activities that are directed at underwater cultural heritage or incidentally affect it, especially in international waters. States Parties to the Convention are obliged to implement this framework into national legislation and to bring it into practice. In particular, States Parties must make sure that their nationals and ships sailing under their flag report finds of cultural heritage to them and do not engage in activities that go against the rules of the Convention.
The Convention stresses the importance of cooperation between States Parties in the execution of the rules of the Convention. This begins with the sharing of information between all Member States and UNESCO. Furthermore, according to the Convention the decision making process in regard to a discovered ship wreck must be a joint process of the States Parties that have a verifiable link with the heritage concerned, including the coastal state, when the find is done within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)/the Continental Shelf. One State Party may be coordinating the execution of the jointly taken decisions, but it must always do so in a manner that is in interest of the international community.
However, for the Convention to be more than a piece of paper and be effective in the protection of the underwater cultural heritage, it is important that cooperation will be more than talks, responsibilities are taken and rules of the Convention are enforced when necessary. The symposium gave the opportunity to learn from the experiences of other countries. During the symposium it was examined how to ensure that this treaty works well in practice. Both the legal aspects of the treaty, the practice of underwater heritage management and the connections between these two worlds were discussed. Abstracts and articles from the symposium can be found in the digital publication on this platform and on the ICLAFI and ICUCH website.