Excellency Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO;
Excellency Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, the Chairperson of the World Heritage Committee;
Excellency Katalin Bogyay, the President of the General Conference of UNESCO;
Excellency Alissandra Cummins, the President of the Executive Board of UNESCO;
Distinguished Guests, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen!
On behalf of the Royal Government and People of Cambodia, I would like to extend our warmest welcome to all of you, the Leaders of UNESCO and all the delegates from member countries of the World Heritage Committee, who are attending this 37th Session of the a ngkorWorld Heritage Committee held in Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia. The Royal Government and People of Cambodia are most honored to host this important meeting for the first time, and we would like to welcome Your Excellencies, the Distinguished Representatives from the World Heritage Committee’s member countries, as our neighbors, friends and relatives. We welcome you to the land of Angkor, Kingdom of Cambodia, the Kingdom of Wonders, which is rich in cultural heritage and invaluable, oldest ancient temples in Asia, dating back a thousand years ago.
On this occasion, I would like to express our deep gratitude and highly appreciate the 36th Session of the World Heritage Committee, especially for your unanimous vote choosing Cambodia to host this 37th Session of the Committee. This indeed represents another great honor for Cambodia and the Cambodian people, after our successful and fruitful ASEAN chairmanship in 2012, which was conducted with full ownership and accountability. The peace and full territorial unification, achieved through the Royal Government’s Win-Win Policy since 1998, has allowed Cambodia to integrate itself quickly into international and regional community, and to play its dynamic and proactive role on the basis of an equal footing and rights, both at regional and global levels. Moreover, the upcoming general elections in July 2013 will reconfirm our commitment to adhering to a multiparty and liberal democracy, the respect for human rights and the dignity of the people, on the basis of equality and non-discrimination against races and religions.
The World Heritage Committee is becoming, over the years, a real and strong body of global governance for the Cultural and Natural Heritage of Humanity. The World Heritage Committee is therefore a special forum for dialogue to promote cooperation on culture and civilization shedding lights on human hope. Moreover, this session represents not only an important milestone in the history of the Committee, but it also expresses the triumph of the long aspiration of many for equal dignity of cultures and civilization, the ideals of mutual respect highly affirmed in the Constitution of UNESCO. Whatever may be their size and gross national product, small and middle-sized countries have become real players in various enterprises of universal character, as exemplified by the work of the World Heritage Committee.
Therefore, it was the right decision to give the chance to Cambodia to host this 37th session. That was not only a great honor for the Royal Government and People of Cambodia, but it was also a testimony of your tribute to and appreciation of the rich and invaluable cultural heritage in Cambodia. It was particularly a testimony of your participation in the promotion, conservation and development of Angkor, our country’s flagship on the World Heritage List and the most illustrious capital of the Khmer Empire.
Taking this rare opportunity, I would like to share some of my views with Your Excellencies including the renowned researchers, such as historians, archaeologists and heritage architects, in order to highlight the importance and contributions of Angkor Temples to the world’s culture and civilization, especially to further strengthen the outstanding universal value of Angkor sites. Sited between two great empires: China on one side and the Indian Subcontinent on the other, the Khmer Empire was able to find its place and has preserved its specificity, through its own language, still alive today, and through its great material culture. Angkor promoted innovative planning, by appropriating with engineering a model city with a rigorously structured cadastral division of land, similar to that we see today in New York, for example. Angkor Thom, a city that covers a square of 900 ha, protected by massive ramparts and surrounded by wide moats erected by the great King of kings, Jayavarman VII, was unique in the world in the late twelfth century.
As a matter of facts, Angkor’s monumental achievements in hydraulic engineering are just now being revealed by a team of Cambodian young hydrologists. A science and technology of water management enabled the establishment and maintenance for many centuries of a coherent network to capture, store, transport and distribute water across a vast territory, from the Kulen Mountains in the northeast to the Great Lake (the Tonle Sap) in the south.
And, furthermore, it turns out that the ancient Khmers were masters of the land, for agricultural and horticultural development, as shown by recent surveys over an area of some 2000 square km around Angkor, utilizing photo-interpretation of remote sensing images.
Consequently, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen would have an important role to play in changing the image of Angkor. Until now, most people have limited knowledge about and are aware of the grandiose features of Angkor strictly as only architectural. I strongly believe that the World Heritage Committee could help convince the entire world to give the Khmer civilization its rightful place in the history of humanity, especially in the history of science and technology.
Civil war and internal conflicts since 1970s plunged Cambodia deeply into the age of ”darkness”, causing serious damages to our national heritage. Our wonderful and ancient temples were suffered from wars and looting as art thieves took advantage of insecurity to loot the artifacts and sell them abroad. For examples, during the mid-1970s, 7 out of 9 statues of the Koh Ker Style in the 10th century were stolen from Cambodia and became private property.
Thanks to the efforts of the Royal Government of Cambodia working in close collaboration with UNESCO and other friendly countries, Cambodia has recovered and returned back some of the lost statues. Thus, I would like to take this opportunity to express our deep gratitude to the Metropolitan Museum of New York, represented by Ms. Emily Rafferty, who decided to return to Cambodia the two God Statues – Sahadeva and Nakula which are among the nine sculptures mentioned above. This act indeed indicates a high standard of professional code of conducts adhered by the Metropolitan Museum. Moreover, I would like also to thank the U.S. Government for their effort in claiming back the statue of Duryodhana, which is now subject to a lawsuit in the New York Court.
We acknowledge with gratitude the fact that you hold in high esteem the international campaign, launched at Angkor in 1993 and still in full swing today, after 20 years. Two decades have passed of intense and fruitful, work under the watchful patronage of UNESCO and under the able chairmanship of France and Japan as co-chairs. With this support, Cambodia has developed a legal framework and established an institutional arrangement to manage its own heritage with active participation from the government ministries, local communities, the University of Fine Arts, the private sector and development partners, such as international organizations and international experts including Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen who are present here. Over the past two decades, many local Cambodian experts have been trained and learned good experiences from foreign experts on how to maintain and repair ancient temples. More than twenty countries from four continents have been carrying out outstanding work in close partnership with the APSARA National Authority. To date, nearly 70 projects have been implemented or are in progress, and more than US$250 million have been mobilized.
The program involves research, conservation and development, but also education and training and cooperation as well as the development of tourism. All that you, within the World Heritage Committee, hold dear, all that constitutes the very fabric of the 1972 Convention, — this is the essence of the Angkor programs. That is why the International Coordinating Committee for Angkor is considered a model, and it is also undoubtedly a reason why you had no hesitation in choosing the country of Angkor for your present 37th session. But, I think there is probably another reason. Your vote was justified by the policy of cultural development that the Royal Government has been implementing for many years and that has long held my personal attention in my capacity as the Prime Minister of the Royal Government of Cambodia.
The Royal Government of Cambodia has undoubtedly placed a high priority on the promotion of Khmer’s cultural values, along with the deployment of realistic vision, strategies and action plans, and regarded culture as the nation’s invaluable soul and identity as well as the non-depletable source of sustainable development. In this sense, we fully agree with the UNESCO on the fundamental role of culture, i.e. culture has its footprint not only in development policies, but also in methods and practices of development. This is the reason why we have embedded the culture, especially, heritage, in our growth strategy to achieve economic and social progress. The outcomes that stemmed from this effort, including the inscription of Angkor archaeological site on the list of world heritage on 14 December 1992, “Royal Ballet of Cambodia” and Khmer Shadow Theatre (Lakhaon Sbek Thom) on the list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity on 7 November 2003 and 25 November 2005 respectively, has greatly enhanced the image of the Kingdom of Cambodia on international stage. In addition, another historical moment of our nation was marked when the sacred Preah Vihear Temple was inscribed on the list of the world heritage on 7 July 2009. On this basis, Cambodia earned overwhelming trust and support from the international community and received the second highest vote to become a permanent member of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee on 26 October 2009.
I would like to address before this noble World Heritage Committee that, for Cambodia, development is not just about extracting resources or manufacturing goods. Culture can also have a utilitarian value, a material benefit and a great economic impact. The approach, used for some years now, driven by the principles and ethics as reflected in the UNESCO 2000 “World Report on Culture”, has brought us significant benefits. Through over a decade of experience, these principles have been translated into actual implementation, as shown in the International Congress recently held in Hangzhou, People’s Republic of China, on “Culture: the key to development”.
It is not for me to recall what heritage means before such assembly, a real parliament of universal heritage. I wish, however, to point out that Cambodia is the only country in the world which has on its national flag a heritage property, more specifically, the Angkor Wat Temple. In this country, rich in historical monuments and archaeological sites, heritage is a priceless asset in economic sense. Heritage is, indeed, social capital that produces a flow of services over the long term. Hence, we have placed paramount importance on cultural tourism and its sustainability. In this regard, the Ministry of Tourism, together with the Apsara National Authority – the body managing Angkor -, has put great effort to increase revenue and the number of Angkor-bound tourists by assuring hospitality of international standard and conservation of cultural values that justified the inscription of Angkor on the World Heritage List. We firmly believe that cultural conservation, in terms of both quantity and quality, does matter to ensure sustainability, a crucial aspect of development.
I would say bluntly that our policy for heritage and cultural tourism is not a passing fancy. We are pleased and proud that the Kingdom of Cambodia this year chairs the World Heritage Committee and hosts its 37th session, but we will not leave it at that. As before this session and even more so in the future, we are determined to continue our efforts to strengthen cultural tourism. We will never do anything that threatens the sanctity of the sites of Angkor and Preah Vihear Temples or endangers their existence or outstanding universal value.
And we propose to extend our list of World Heritage properties by nominating Sambor Prei Kuk, our main pre-Angkorian site, and Koh Ker, the ephemeral capital of the Khmer empire in the tenth century, which invented the art of dynamic statuary in Asia. Thereby, we will widen the choice for visitors and better assure the safeguarding and conservation of the diversity of our heritage.
Speaking of the world heritage value and management that links to sustainable development, I just want to make a case about benefits gained from inscription on the list of World Heritage that has drawn regional and global attention to the promotion, safeguarding and development of those sites to help promoting the economy and improving the living standard of people. Therefore, in economic sense, I think we should focus on the development of both tangible and intangible cultural assets by integrating this work into development process, either within regional or global framework. This will indeed help promoting sustainable development of the tourism sector, in which cultural heritage plays an important role in job creation, a factor contributing to poverty reduction and mobilizing revenue for the management and conservation of cultural assets. In this regard, the Royal Government of Cambodia has introduced “Conversation for Development, Development for Conservation” policy in the tourism sector.
Over the last two decades, cultural and eco-tourism have become a pillar of equitable growth and played an instrumental role in poverty reduction in Cambodia. The last two decades of sustained high growth, together with peace and macro-economic stability, has provided a new opportunity for rapid poverty reduction and enhanced living standard. In particular, poverty rate dropped from 100% in 1979 to 19% in 2011. Undoubtedly, heritage and cultural tourism are playing a substantial part in this growth. Twenty years ago, when Angkor was inscribed on the World Heritage list, the number of international visitors was just 120,000. The figure then climbed to 3.5 million in 2012, with the expectation of 4.5 million by 2015.
However, this requires that we increase alertness. Heritage should in no way suffer from these gains. That is why our experts, together with UNESCO and Australia, have prepared a tourism management plan for Angkor and the region to ensure a balance between the imperatives of development and conservation needs in conformity with the new concept of green development.
This is a good lesson for young Cambodians and for the youth of the whole world, as discussed last week in the Youth Forum, organized under the auspices of the National Commission for UNESCO and the United Federation of Youth in Cambodia, which ends tomorrow with the report they will submit to the Committee. In fact, I think the youth can draw on two experiences for their consideration and more active involvement. Firstly, the Cambodian experience highlights the important role of heritage in the development process. Eco-tourism and beach tourism begin to attract more and more visitors, but the fact remains that for the moment the overwhelming majority of international tourists are attracted by the prestige of the wonders of Angkor. Secondly, code of ethics is another experience to be learned by the youth. It is imperative to pass on the message to future generations to continue preserving the value of heritage, belonging either to their own nation or humanity as a whole. It is absolutely clear that each nation is obliged to conserve its own heritage, but we must also acknowledge that heritage also belongs to humanity as a whole, therefore, everyone must do his/her bit to conserve and value either tangible or intangible heritage at all places, regardless of the original nation, original race or actual location of those heritage and culture.
Before ending my remarks, I would like to say again that if past conservation of cultural assets and civilization relied on art, archaeology and history, it is clear that economic dimensions of heritage now become more important. In this sense, people in this era of globalization must love heritage just as they need to live in safety or desire to breathe clean air. Our young youth, wherever they are, must take over this task and become, in their turn, the vigilant guardians of heritage. In this connection, let us hope that the Youth Forum in Angkor has instilled in them an even deeper love of heritage.
What we will achieve from this 37th session will no doubt contribute to strengthening international solidarity for the protection and enhancement of heritage of humanity. In everyone’s eyes, the 1972 Convention is a powerful tool for maintaining peace in the world.
Finally, I wish Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Distinguished Delegates good health and success in your endeavors as well as pleasant and memorable stay in this heritage-rich country of Angkor. I look forward to a great success of this meeting over the coming days.
Now it is indeed an honour to declare the opening of the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee./.