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World Heritage Sites

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World Heritage Sites are designated by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as exceptional places of: "outstanding universal value... belonging to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located."

There are five World Heritage Sites in Scotland (as noted in 2012).[1]

The list is maintained by the international World Heritage Programme administered by the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Committee, and had more than 930 entries in 2012.

Until the end of 2004, World Heritage sites had been selected on the basis of six cultural and four natural criteria. Following adoption of the revised Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, this was changed to provide a single set of ten criteria:

Selection criteria:

  1. to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;
  2. to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;
  3. to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;
  4. to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;
  5. to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;
  6. to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria);
  7. to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;
  8. to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;
  9. to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;
  10. to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.
    - UNESCO World Heritage Centre - The Criteria for Selection.[2]

Legal status of designated sites

UNESCO designation as a World Heritage Site provides prima facie evidence that such culturally sensitive sites are legally protected pursuant to the Law of War, under the Geneva Convention, its Articles, Protocols and Customs, together with other treaties including the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and international law.

The Geneva Convention treaty promulgates:

Article 53. PROTECTION OF CULTURAL OBJECTS AND OF PLACES OF WORSHIP. Without prejudice to the provisions of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of 14 May 1954,' and of other relevant international instruments, it is prohibited:

  1. To commit any acts of hostility directed against the historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples;
  2. To use such objects in support of the military effort;
  3. To make such objects the object of reprisals."
    - UN Treaty No. 17512, page 27. [3]


1 Historic Scotland - Looking after our heritage - World Heritage Sites in Scotland Retrieved April 08, 2013.

2 UNESCO World Heritage Centre - The Criteria for Selection Retrieved May 30, 2012.

3 "UN Treaty No. 17512" Retrieved May 30, 2012.


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