Dr Shlomit Wallerstein is a CUF Lecturer in Law at the University of Oxford and Fellow of St Peter’s College, Oxford.
Recently (on 29 June 2012), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) accepted the Palestinian application for the recognition of the Church of Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route as a world heritage site and included it in the World Heritage List. At the same time, it also added it to the list of ‘World Heritage Sites in Danger’. The site is described as located in Bethlehem. What is less known is that part of the pilgrimage route recognised as part of the site goes through East Jerusalem, which is currently under Israeli control. Israel opposed the recognition both with regards to the Church of Nativity, which is located in Bethlehem, and with regards to the pilgrimage route, which passes in part in an area under Israeli control and over which Israel claims sovereignty (a claim rejected by many in the international community). Leaving aside questions about the legitimacy of the recognition of Palestine as a state by UNESCO, the recognition of this site raises interesting questions about the relationship between the location of the site and the state that is applying tor recognition of the site as a world heritage site.
According to Art. 3 of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (hereafter: the Convention) it is the responsibility of each state to identify and delineate the different properties situated on its territory that should be recognised as either cultural or natural world heritage. Each State Party should then submit a tentative list of all these sites to UNESCO in accordance with Art. 11(1). UNESCO will only consider sites included in these lists.
But what happens where a site is found on a disputed territory? These cases create two potential scenarios. The first is that the state that claims sovereignty over the territory and which has effective control over that territory would apply to add the site on the World Heritage List. Assuming for the sake of this argument that Palestine is a state, its application concerning the Church of Nativity is a situation of this type as the site is found in Bethlehem, which is under the control of the Palestinians. The second scenario involves applications made by any state who has a claim on the territory on which the site is found but which does not have effective control over it. The Palestinian application to include the pilgrimage route, which is found (in part) in East Jerusalem (assuming for these purposes that this is a disputed territory), is an example of this second type scenario. Read the rest of this entry…