Delhi declaration on heritage and democracy

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THE 19th General Assembly of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) in Delhi, India on 11-15 December 2017 convened 890 heritage experts from 80 countries around the world.

This Declaration reflects a commitment by ICOMOS to Heritage and Democracy as key ingredients in a people-based approach to sustainable development. Heritage is a fundamental right and responsibility of all. It is a starting point for a meaningful and equitable future that secures and celebrates diversity, social engagement, equality and justice for all cultures.



Acknowledging that heritage constitutes a key resource in enhancing quality of life and social cohesion, fostering economic development in a fast-changing global environment; Recognising heritage as a fundamental human right; Considering that democracy gives both rights and duties to individuals, communities and nations; Further considering the imperative for mutual respect, diversity, plurality, syncretism and peaceful coexistence, and the right of all cultures, each with a distinctive heritage, to practice individual beliefs and conserve multicultural legacies; Recognising that heritage is increasingly threatened in many parts of the world by deterioration, disappearance, erasure or poor treatment, which impoverishes individuals, groups, nations and humankind as a whole; Realising the additional threats caused by climate change, rising sea levels, deliberate destruction and armed conflicts, and recognizing the need for risk preparedness, disaster mitigation and increased resilience; Taking into account the reality of human migration and population growth; Respecting a people-centric culture-specific approach in various geographical regions inhabited by a multitude of diverse communities who have contributed to the creation of the composite heritage of a place; Recognising the role that digital technologies and communications now play in heritage management; Recalling the existing international conventions, recommendations and other documents concerning heritage as a basis for understanding and treatment; and Emphasizing the need for professional heritage expertise and multidisciplinary cooperation as an integral part of policy-making throughout the community-development processes.

On behalf of the peoples we serve, ICOMOS addresses the UN, UNESCO and other relevant international bodies, all levels of government and authorities in individual countries, institutions for education and research, non-governmental organizations and, in particular, individuals and groups of people at the local level, as well as all other stakeholders.

1. Manage Heritage Resources for Our Common Future: values, significance and authenticity.

The concept of heritage has widened considerably from monuments, groups of buildings and sites to also include settings, larger and more complex areas and landscapes and their intangible dimensions. This reflects a more diverse approach. Heritage belongs to all people: men, women, and children; indigenous people; ethnic groups; people of different belief systems; and minority groups. It is evident in places, ancient to modern; rural and urban; the small, everyday and utilitarian; as well as the monumental and elite. It includes value systems, beliefs, traditions and lifestyles, together with uses, customs, practices and traditional knowledge. There are associations, meanings, records, related places and related objects. This is a more people-centred approach.

Heritage should be managed in accordance with significance. Integrity and authenticity must be considered in the management of cultural assets.

Mutual understanding and tolerance of diverse cultural expressions add to quality of life and social cohesion. They provide an opportunity for learning, impartial interaction and active engagement, and have the potential to reinforce community bonds and reduce conflicts.

The heritage and dynamics of historic places are primary resources for attracting creative industries, businesses, inhabitants and visitors, and an environment for economic growth and prosperity.

Legislative protection of heritage is the responsibility of all levels of government. This should respect connections between communities and place; functional continuities; and include conservation objectives in development initiatives. Heritage management and planning regulations require transparent systems for informing stakeholders, assessing and balancing potentially conflicting views and interests.

2. Develop Ethical Principles and Education for Heritage: guidance, informed decisions and practices.

Ethical principles should be established to guide heritage conservation and management. This includes interpretation, adaptation, intervention, and sustaining complex heritage systems and places, and should engage the local communities and consider the historic layers that contribute to the evolution of the place.

Intellectual and physical access to heritage resources empowers people to safeguard it. Traditional knowledge and professional expertise constitute important resources for communities, adding to the understanding of values, sense of place, and awareness.

Specialized education is necessary for each heritage discipline and should not be reduced to a generalist approach. An understanding of cultural diversity is essential in heritage education and training programmes at all levels – professionals and artisans; adults and children.

All levels of government have a responsibility to identify, assess and document heritage places, and to promote awareness of their significance. Access to traditional knowledge and evidence-based documentation is fundamental to this approach. A wide range of communication technologies and media should be utilized by governments, institutions and interested communities for collecting, sharing and disseminating data.

3. Promote Inclusive Democratic Community Processes: of all the people, by all the people, for all the people.

Heritage is a non-renewable resource. Heritage is often shared between neighbouring countries and larger regions and/or is a reflection and amalgamation of cultural influences across the world.

Community participation in planning, the integration of traditional knowledge and intercultural dialogue in collaborative decision-making facilitates well-reasoned solutions and good use of resources reflecting the four pillars of sustainability.

Cultural identities should not be compromised by uniform and insensitive planning. The protection and sustenance of heritage resources should be the basis of development policies and planning programmes, integrating heritage-conservation strategies within the larger goals of sustainable development. Specific guidance is necessary to ensure the harmonious insertion of contemporary interventions into heritage settings.

4. Ensure Continuity of Living Heritage: a condition of sustainable development

There is a close relationship between nature, culture and people. Cultural places and landscapes, along with communities, traditional systems and beliefs, constitute living heritage and cultural identity.

Appropriate conservation and management of living heritage is achievable through intergenerational transfer of knowledge and skills in cooperation with communities and facilitated by multidisciplinary expertise.

Traditional building methods and community structures have inherent sustainability that has been tested and shaped over time. Historic settlements tend to use limited resources efficiently; favour interaction and solidarity; and secure cultural continuity.

The responsibility for safeguarding heritage extends between nations and cultures. Intentional destruction which aims to erase cultural identity is a breach of fundamental human rights. Cultural recovery is vital to regaining dignity. Solidarity and support should be extended to cultures, countries and communities in need.

Recognition and support must be given to those persons who embody cultural knowledge and skills for there to be long-term perpetuation of living heritage.

It is our duty to conserve the significance of the multicultural, multidimensional heritage we have inherited and hand it down to following generations. Engaging and training new generations in the understanding and protection of the inherited values of our living and shared heritage sustains the plural legacies of the past.


* ICOMOS is an international non-governmental organization dedicated to the conservation, protection, use and enhancement of the world’s cultural heritage, the only global organization of its kind. ICOMOS is an advisory body to UNESCO for cultural heritage, in particular for implementation of the World Heritage Convention, and increasingly a partner contributing to the United Nation’s work towards Agenda 2030 and Global Goals for Sustainable Development.


Charter of the United Nations (1945).

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations 1948).

The Venice Charter – International Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites (UNESCO 1964).

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (United Nations 1966).

Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (UNESCO 1972).

The Brundtland Report – Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future (United Nations 1987).

The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and The Earth Summit and Agenda 21 (United Nations 1992).

The Nara Document on Authenticity (ICOMOS 1994).

Our Creative Diversity, Report of the World Commission on Culture and Development (UNESCO 1998).

Action Plan for Cultural Policies for Development, Intergovernmental Conference on Cultural Policies for Development (UNESCO 1998).

The Stockholm Declaration – Declaration of ICOMOS Marking the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (ICOMOS 1998).

The Faro Convention – Framework Convention on the Value of Heritage for Society (Council of Europe 2005).

Xi’an Declaration on the Conservation of the Setting of Heritage Structures, Sites and Areas (ICOMOS 2005).

Historic Cities and Sustainable Urban Development Policies, Valletta Position Paper of the ICOMOS International Committee on Historic Towns and Villages (ICOMOS CIVVIH 2010).

Living Heritage (ICCROM 2011).

The Paris Declaration, On Heritage as a Driver of Development (ICOMOS 2011).

Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape (UNESCO 2011).

The Valletta Principles for the Safeguarding and Management of Historic Cities, Towns and Urban Areas (ICOMOS CIVVIH 2011).

The Burra Charter (Australia ICOMOS 2013).

Hangzhou Declaration: Placing Culture at the Heart of Sustainable Development Policies (2013).

The Florence Declaration on Heritage and Landscape as Human Values (ICOMOS 2014).

Policy for the Integration of a Sustainable Development Perspective into the Process of the World Heritage Convention (UNESCO 2015).

Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (United Nations 2015).

HABITAT III, New Urban Agenda (United Nations 2016).

Report, the Advisory Body ‘Our Common Dignity’ on Rights-based approaches in World Heritage (ICCROM, ICOMOS and IUCN 2017).