UK Government steps closer to ratifying UNESCO Underwater Cultural Heritage convention

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has signalled plans to review whether the UK should ratify the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.

The 2001 UNESCO Convention is intended to enable States to protect their submerged cultural heritage. The Convention sets out basic principles for the protection of underwater cultural heritage, provides a detailed State cooperation system, and provides practical rules for the treatment and research of underwater cultural heritage.

The Heritage Minister, John Glen MP, signalled the UK Government’s intention to review the UK position on the UNESCO Convention in response to a Parliamentary Question from Mr Kevan Jones MP (Labour, North Durham).

The Convention came into force in January 2009 and has since been ratified by 56 State Parties. It has quickly become a central international framework for the management of Underwater Cultural Heritage.

In 2012, a multi-disciplinary project team of UK experts, supported by English Heritage, the UK National Commission for UNESCO and the Honor Frost Foundation, conducted an independent Impact Review of the costs and benefits of ratification for the United  Kingdom. The Review found that the majority of the substantive clauses of the 2001 Convention appear to present no difficulty to the UK and that, in fact, the UK has world-leading experience in particular areas.

In a subsequent policy brief, the UK National Commission for UNESCO set out the next steps for the UK Government in reviewing the Convention. It recommends that the UK Government should first conduct an inter-departmental regulatory impact assessment, involving the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Justice, and other relevant departments. The assessment would define the legal and administrative changes and resources required, including issues identified about human remains, archaeological archives and salvage. Find out more about what would be necessary for the UK Government to ratify the UNESCO Convention below.