UNESCO is the only United Nations agency with a specific mandate for culture and heritage. Culture is unique in its ability to anchor people’s feelings and beliefs to the land in which they live, and to the communities to which they belong. It has the power to transform individuals and societies. UNESCO’s role is to protect heritage and to foster creativity, through advocacy, normative frameworks and promotion of active engagement on the ground. At the highest level, this means promoting the importance of culture in an international context, both culture for its own sake and in relation to sustainable development.
Since 1945, UNESCO has been setting international agreements to guard against the numerous risks and dangers threatening cultural heritage, such as war, political, ethnic and religious conflict, looting, theft, illegal export and import, illicit trafficking of cultural property, deterioration, neglect, destruction of or alteration to heritage, pollution, and disappearance. UNESCO’s frameworks help to conserve and protect the world’s cultural property including books, art and monuments for the benefit of current societies and future generations.
While no global definition of “cultural heritage” exists, UNESCO’s Conventions protect the values that people and communities place on cultural heritage including: cultural property, cultural heritage sites, underwater cultural heritage, documentary and digital heritage, oral traditions, rites and beliefs, music, traditional medicine, historic cities, and traditional sports and games.
Through its Conventions and programmes UNESCO also seeks to strengthen and protect creativity and cultural pluralism. Through its membership of UNESCO, the UK’s culture and heritage join and contribute to humanity’s global story.