The World Heritage Convention establishes which are the natural and cultural sites that may be inscribed in the World Heritage List. It fixes the duties of its State Parties concerning the identification of those sites, as well as their performance relating its protection and preservation. By signing the Convention, each country pledges not only to ensure the maintenance of the sites situated on its territory, as well as to protect its cultural and natural heritage.
The most original characteristic of this Convention is that it gathered in the same document the conceptions of both nature and cultural sites preservation.
Portugal became a member of this Convention in 1979, according to Decree no.49/79, of June 6th.
The organs of the Convention are the following:
* The General Assembly, comprising all countries which have ratified the Convention meeting every two years;
* The World Heritage Committee, with 21 State Parties elected by the General Assembly meeting annually;
* The Bureau of the World Heritage Committee, with seven members elected by the Committee to prepare its decisions.
Portugal was elected for the Committee in 1999 and, according to the working rules of that organ, its mandate will end in 2005, together with South Africa, Belgium, China, Colombia, Egypt and Italy.
The World Heritage Committee is responsible for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention and for the decision-making in the following areas:
* Selecting new sites for the World Heritage List;
* Studying the reports on the conservation state of the inscribed sites and requesting the State Parties to take the necessary measures whenever these sites are not properly managed;
* Granting subsidies of the World Heritage Fund to those sites in need of conservation or restoration, urgent assistance whenever there is an eminent threat, as well as technical support and training, promotional or educative activities.
To be a State Party of the Convention and of the Committee implies several responsibilities, the main one being developing a heritage preservation ethics. To promote that ethics fairly is, no doubt, a great challenge, especially in a moment when the economic globalisation leads every nation to pursue a fast development, sometimes not too worried with its consequences for the future.
Of the 690 sites of 122 States that the World Heritage Committee inscribed in the World Heritage List (529 Cultural sites, 138 Natural sites and 23 mixed sites) 13 are situated on national territory: