Between international law, kastom and sustainable development: Cultural heritage in Vanuatu

Serrano, Katharina Anna and Stefanova, Milena (2011) Between international law, kastom and sustainable development: Cultural heritage in Vanuatu. In: Island Futures Conservation and Development Across the Asia-Pacific Region. Global Environmental Studies . Springer, Japan, pp. 19-36. ISBN 978-4-431-53988-9

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Developing island states often struggle to identify and manage natural resources in settings characterized by ‘legal pluralism’. The existence of multiple rule systems with competing claims to legitimacy is a hallmark of Vanuatu’s institutional landscape. The resilience of local systems, the limited reach of central institutions and the rhetorical support of state actors for kastom nevertheless present an opportunity to think creatively about governance in Vanuatu and to develop innovative tools and methods to manage the impact of development in a way that is beneficial for local communities. On the basis of a case study of Vanuatu’s Chief Roi Mata’s Domain an – official UNESCO world heritage site since 2008 – the article explores options for the utilization of international and regional agreements in the sustainable development and preservation of heritage sites. The aim of the article is to contribute to the understanding of the impact such agreements have on the protection of Vanuatu’s cultural heritage, bearing in mind challenges that a small island country like Vanuatu may experience in the attempt to utilize international and regional conventions for the protection of cultural heritage. The ultimate question, however, is how indigenous culture can be protected and simultaneously sustainably accessed as a ‘development resource’.

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