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UNESCO established its lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage with the aim of ensuring the better protection of important intangible cultural heritages worldwide and the awareness of their significance. Through a compendium of the different oral and intangible treasures of humankind worldwide, the program aims to draw attention to the importance of safeguarding intangible heritage, which UNESCO has identified as an essential component and as a repository of cultural diversity and of creative expression.
The list was established in 2008 when the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage took effect.
As of 2010[update] the programme compiles two lists. The longer Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity comprises cultural "practices and expressions [that] help demonstrate the diversity of this heritage and raise awareness about its importance." The shorter List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding is composed of those cultural elements that concerned communities and countries consider require urgent measures to keep them alive.
In 2013 four elements were inscribed on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, which helps States Parties mobilize international cooperation and assistance to ensure the transmission of this heritage with the participation of the concerned communities. The Urgent Safeguarding List now numbers 35 elements. The Committee also inscribed 25 elements on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, which serves to raise awareness of intangible heritage and provide recognition to communities’ traditions and know-how that reflect their cultural diversity. The List does not attribute or recognize any standard of excellence or exclusivity. Four of the 158 States Parties to the Convention—Ethiopia, the Republic of Macedonia, Niger and Ukraine — had their first inscriptions on that List, which as of 2010[update] totalled 281 elements.
The Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity contains intangible cultural heritage elements that "help demonstrate the diversity of [cultural] heritage and raise awareness about its importance".
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