Between International Law, Kastom and Sustainable Development: Cultural Heritage in Vanuatu

  • Katharina SerranoEmail author
  • Milena Stefanova
Part of the Global Environmental Studies book series (GENVST)


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’.


Cultural diversity Cultural heritage International law Kastom Pacific Island Countries Sustainable development UNESCO Vanuatu 



The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not ­necessarily reflect those of the World Bank, its executive directors or the countries they represent. The authors are grateful for background information on this paper provided by Douglas Kalotiti, Chairman of the CRMD World Heritage Committee, and the international advisory group, ­including Adam Trau, Chris Ballard, Meredith Wilson and Alison Fleming. For more information contact Katharina Serrano at and Milena Stefanova at


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Copyright information

© Springer 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of the South PacificSuvaFiji Islands
  2. 2.University of Central LancashireLancashireUK
  3. 3.World BankWashingtonUSA

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