What is

Intangible Cultural Heritage?

At the General Conference on 17 October 2003, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization adopted the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (the Convention). The purposes of the Convention are:

  1. to safeguard the intangible cultural heritage (ICH);

  2. to ensure respect for the ICH of the communities, groups and individuals concerned;

  3. to raise awareness at the local, national and international levels of the importance of the ICH, and of ensuring mutual appreciation thereof; and

  4. to provide for international cooperation and assistance.


According to the Convention, ICH refers to the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognise as part of their cultural heritage. This ICH, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity. In the Convention, the ICH is manifested in the following domains:

  1. oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the ICH;

  2. performing arts;

  3. social practices, rituals and festive events;

  4. knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe; and

  5. traditional craftsmanship.

The Convention defines "safeguarding" as measures aimed at ensuring the viability of the ICH, including the identification, documentation, research, preservation, protection, promotion, enhancement, transmission, particularly through formal and non-formal education, as well as the revitalisation of the various aspects of such heritage.

The Convention formally entered into force on 20 April 2006, following the ratification of the Convention by 30 States Parties. An important obligation of States Parties to the Convention is inventory-making. Article 12 of the Convention stipulates that each State Party shall draw up, in a manner geared to its own situation, one or more inventories of the ICH present in its territory and that these inventories shall be regularly updated.