UNESCO may weigh opposing views on Memory of the World submissions in light of Japan's ire


UNESCO should take into account opposing views in its heritage registration process in light of criticism leveled by Japan about its inscription of China’s “Documents of Nanjing Massacre” in the Memory of the World project, a report issued by its advisory committee says.

Japan is urging the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to improve the transparency and fairness of the screening and registration process, after discussions on the 2015 inclusion of China’s documents were conducted behind closed doors by experts, just like the other registrations.

UNESCO will make a final decision on recommendations to change the process as early as this summer after hearing the opinions of member countries at an executive board meeting starting Wednesday.

UNESCO’s International Advisory Committee proposed in its report published on its website that the subcommittee assessing nominated documents take into account “all the comments received in its assessment,” including “objections.”

Even if a new registration system is devised, it remains to be seen whether UNESCO will consider Japan’s opposition to the filing of an application by a South Korean civic group and others to have documents related to the “comfort women” — Japan’s euphemism for those rounded up into Japan’s wartime military brothels — inscribed in the Memory of the World.

Tokyo will take the stance that the “political use of UNESCO cannot be allowed,” a Japanese government source said.

In the report, the IAC said the objective of the Memory of the World program is “to facilitate preservation of the world’s past, present and future documentary heritage.”

The report said the Memory of the World program “does not enter into disputes concerning the interpretation of historical events, nor does it take sides.”

Under the newly recommended registration process, nominations will be “immediately” open for comment, the report said. The comments will be transmitted to the subcommittee assessing the nominations, it said.

If there are opposing views, the concerned parties will be urged to hold dialogue to seek resolution. As a result, the parties can jointly file a nomination or register a subject with an additional statement showing differing perspectives on the events or facts reflected in the nominated document.

If no agreement is reached, the concerned parties will be encouraged to continue dialogue for up to four years after the nomination’s submission. The IAC will then be expected to make a final recommendation, the report said.

Tokyo disputes the number of Chinese civilians and soldiers killed by the Imperial Japanese Army during the incident, citing historian estimates that range from the tens of thousands to 200,000. Beijing says that over 300,000 were killed during the roughly monthlong orgy of rape and murder.

While acknowledging it cannot be denied there were killings of noncombatants and looting in the “Nanjing Incident,” Japanese officials argue that UNESCO’s registration could help China step up its campaign to highlight what it calls “the crimes of Japanese militarism.”

After criticizing the listing of China’s documents, Tokyo briefly withheld the payment last year of its obligatory dues of around ¥3.85 billion to UNESCO. But the government made the payment later as it saw improvements in the screening process for the program, according to Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.

Currently, a total of 348 items including ancient texts, paintings and video are registered in Memory of the World, a program that UNESCO says is important and deserving of full preservation and permanent access to all.

Among the entries are France’s “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,” and “Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank.

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