ST. KITTS-NEVIS POISED TO RATIFY UNESCO CONVENTION ON UNDERWATER CULTURAL HERITAGE Antonio Maynard, Secretary General of the St. Kitts Nevis National Commission for UNESCO informs that the nation is poised to ratify the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Under Water Cultural Heritage. Mr. Maynard informed that the St. Kitts Nevis National Commission for UNESCO along with other stakeholders including Lithuanian Ambassador to UNESCO-Ina Marciulionyte, Randolph Edmeade-Ag. Director of Planning, Mc Clean Hobson, Director of Maritime Affairs, representatives from the legal department, and others met in February to thoroughly discuss the ratification of the said Convention. The UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, which was adopted in 2001, is an agreement that seeks to enable States to effectively protect and preserve their underwater cultural heritage. He noted that according to UNESCO, the term “Underwater Cultural Heritage”encompasses “all traces of human existence having a cultural, historical or archaeological character which have been partially or totally under water, periodically or continuously, for at least 100 years…”He noted that the Convention’s standard is comparable to that granted by other UNESCO Conventions or national legislation on cultural heritage on land however it is specific to archaeological sites under water. Maynard said that it would prove beneficial for the nation to sign on to the 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. He said that the ratification of the Convention would provide adequate legal protection to St. Kitts Nevis in the prevention of the looting and plundering of hundreds of ship wrecks that remain under our territorial waters including the Christina,. It would give the nation the power to take legal action against the illegal recovery and trafficking of its cultural property. It will also provide the opportunity for the establishment of underwater heritage sites. This would prove beneficial in support of heritage tourism. Given the fact that the Convention provides guidelines to underwater archaeologists, this would assist greatly in conducting proper research of uncovered sites. It would also give St. Kitts Nevis the opportunity to provide the same level of management of our underwater cultural heritage sites, thus bringing them in line with the same level of protection given to land based heritage sites. He further stated that the ratification of the Convention will also assist in the development of our human resources and build capacity for the effective preservation and the protection of our Underwater Cultural Heritage sites. The Secretary General stated that by signing the Convention this would bring St Kitts Nevis on board with other regional members of The Regional Heritage Association (RHA), which is based in St. Lucia. This is a body which was established to facilitate a regional approach for the protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. He said that one of the priorities of this body is to facilitate the ratification of this particular Convention by all the states of the OECS. As a member of this group St Kitts Nevis will benefit from cooperation with other member states, so as to ensure that the wrecks and submerged ruins will be protected wherever they are located, including outside our territorial seas. Maynard reiterated that this Convention sets out the basic principle for protecting underwater cultural heritage, contains provisions for international cooperation and provides guidelines for dealing with such heritage. He said that it is important to note that the 2001 Convention is independent of any other treaty and that it is not intended to infringe upon the State’s practice pertaining to sovereign immunities, nor any State’s rights with respect to its State’s vessels and aircraft. It does not affect or prejudiced jurisdiction or duties of States under international law. According to the UNESCO website the world’s underwater cultural heritage is often underestimated. It states that while over the last century, archaeological sites on land have yielded an abundance of information on development of civilizations; the ocean which covers the larger part of the planet still retain many secrets. It states that the ocean contain a unique testament of the spirit of our ancestors for exploration; and many shipwrecks and ruins of cities are much better preserved than similar sites found on land. It further states that the looting of underwater cultural heritage and the destruction of its context threatens to deprive humanity of its heritage. It notes that although the waves have preserved these sites for centuries, improvements in diving technology have made them accessible and therefore more vulnerable. UNESCO states that the pillaging and dispersion of archaeological heritage is no longer restricted to land based sites with treasure hunting now taking place underwater. While many States have heightened preservation on land, most of their underwater heritage is still unprotected.
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