Cultural heritage plays an invaluable role in the existence and development of a society. Historical memory and a proper attitude towards cultural heritage significantly influence the personality and identity of humans. Monumental edifices, architectural structures, inventions, and other products of human ingenuity, such as folk music, oral literature, and art, stimulate enjoyment and embolden reflections.
Observations of flora and fauna and inanimate objects can arouse admiration and provide a sense of wonder. A number of issues arise during discussions of law and cultural heritage. Law is often treated as evidence of the development of humankind and an element of cultural heritage. Within social groups, law also reflects what is acceptable and unacceptable. The right of access to cultural goods and the protection of cultural heritage are some of the key aspects of law and rights of humanity. Numerous regulations concerning the protection of cultural and natural heritage have been established, both at the national and international level.
The discourse of cultural heritage relates to the ways people recognize and appreciate culture. This becomes crucial since heritage is constructed in multiple ways. In this respect, various agents recognize the cultural significances of a heritage object in different ways. At the international level, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) support the recognition of cultural heritage through international conventions. These conventions are essential for developing a common framework for protecting and promoting cultural heritage.
The international conception of heritage legislation needs to be congruent with local realities and philosophies of different countries in order to ensure proper management and protection of cultural heritage. Many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa inherited their cultural heritage legislation from the colonial period. These regulation systems were influenced by or forged during the colonial era, thus making the process of heritage management complex. It is vital to harmonize the generic concept of cultural heritage with values perceived by local people and their traditional philosophies and the realities. Cultural heritage management and the development of heritage legislation are a dynamic, evolving process that should adapt to changes and challenges.
In 1993, after Eritrea proclaimed its sovereignty, it joined several international organizations, such as UNESCO, and it also signed several important international documents, including: the 1972 Convention concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage (in 2001); the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict with Regulations for the Execution of the Convention (in 2004); and the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (in 2010).
It is worthwhile pointing out that Eritrea has a long, eventful, rich history, an abundance of natural and cultural resources, and a great diversity of cultures. Its cultural and archaeological resources are closely associated with the locality of each region and landscape and they cannot be separated from the values perceived by local people and their traditional philosophies. In this respect, there is a need to harmonize the local perspectives with international agreements listed above.
The development of cultural heritage management in the country, begun after independence, and the signing of important international conventions has influenced the way Eritrea has formulated its conceptions of cultural and natural heritage, such as its Cultural and Natural Heritage Proclamation 177/2015, which was proclaimed on September 30th, 2015. Different drafts of the legislation were prepared prior to the announcement of the Proclamation and the post-independence era presented an opportunity to shape heritage conception and legislation in line with the local reality and context. The discourse of cultural heritage is, to a large extent, understood from the principal components of the Proclamation, which provide a contextual framework regarding the global and local context of cultural heritage. The Cultural and Natural Heritage Proclamation 177/2015 addresses various issues, from integrated systems for the identification, registration, documentation, monitoring, administration, conservation, protection, safeguarding and preservation of heritage resources to control of the illicit transfer, export, or transport of heritage materials. The Proclamation also addresses the protection of the cultural heritage of Eritrea from all kinds of damage and hazards, the dissemination of information and research on resources, and the effective involvement of government institutions and the public.
As well, the Proclamation defines what constitutes cultural heritage in Eritrea, outlines administrative and management schemes, and notes the different processes in heritage management. It also outlines the specific guidelines related to ownership, repatriation, and research, and details the sanctions to be taken for violation of the Proclamation. The Proclamation also presents guidelines related to the management of sites and monuments, movable heritage, and the intangible aspects of our heritage.
While the Proclamation forms the primary basis for the conception of cultural heritage management in legislative terms, a number of changes and reviews will be needed due to limitations and changes in the administrative and management framework. Heritage legislation is not static. It should evolve and adapt to changing realities and different contexts. Proclamation 177/2015 is subject to review and amendments, when required, can be implemented in order that it fits the Eritrean context in the future.
Around the world, national heritage is considered important. It has been at the center of many regulations and laws. Generally, these aim to identify and register natural heritage, in addition to protecting and preserving it. Laws and regulations are the first steps for preserving and protecting a nation’s natural and cultural heritage. Cultural heritage legislation is also especially important because of its significant contribution to the intellectual, economic, and social development of a nation. In consideration of these various factors, cultural heritage legislation that is aligned with the local reality and context is of fundamental importance.