Cultural diversity

News Releases / Speeches / Declarations

Cultural diversity now considered a “common heritage of humanity” and its “defense as an ethical imperative, inseparable from respect for human dignity”

UNESCO, Paris, October 20, 2005 – 2005/10/20

Applause rang out on October 20 as representatives of 154 states attending the Plenary Session of the 33rd UNESCO General Conference cheered the adoption of the Report of Commission IV and the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions . It is a “great day for UNESCO (…). The international community now has of a new legal instrument that is equal, not subordinate, in status to other treaties (…). It is the result of a vast consensus and of efforts by groups of French, Portuguese, and Spanish-speaking states (…). The guiding principles of the convention address all the reserves and caveats that have been expressed (…). We, the 150 countries who voted for the Convention, will now undertake the ratification and implementation process,” declared Canada’s ambassador to UNESCO, Mr. Yvon Charbonneau.

A UNESCO press release issued the same day reported, “The General Conference of UNESCO, meeting in Paris from October 3 to October 21, today approved (148 votes for, two against, four abstentions) the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, an international normative instrument that will enter into force three months after its ratification by 30 states. The result of a long process of maturation and two years of intense negotiations, punctuated by numerous meetings of independent and then governmental experts, this text which takes the form of an international normative instrument, reinforces the idea already included in the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, unanimously adopted in 2001, that cultural diversity must be considered as a ‘common heritage of humanity,’ and its ‘defense as an ethical imperative, inseparable from respect for human dignity.’ In 2003, member states requested the organization to pursue its normative action to defend human creativity, a vital component of the Declaration, as explained in articles eight and eleven.”

According to the release, “the Convention seeks to reaffirm the links between culture, development and dialog and to create an innovative platform for international cultural cooperation; to this end, it reaffirms the sovereign right of states to elaborate cultural policies ‘to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions’ and ‘to create the conditions for cultures to flourish and to freely interact in a mutually beneficial manner’ (Article 1). At the same time, a series of Guiding Principles (Article 2) guarantees that all measures aimed at protecting and promoting the diversity of cultural expressions not hinder respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms ‘such as freedom of expression, information and communication, as well as the ability of individuals to choose (them)…’ As well, the ‘principle of openness and balance’ ensures that when states adopt measures in favor of the diversity of cultural expressions ‘they should seek to promote, in an appropriate manner, openness to other cultures of the world.’”

According to adopted Convention, “the rights and obligations of Parties (Articles 5 to 11) include a series of policies and measures aimed at protecting and promoting the diversity of cultural expressions, approaching creativity and all it implies in the context of globalization, where diverse expressions are circulated and made accessible to all via cultural goods and services. Thus, Parties, recognizing the fundamental role of civil society, will seek to create an environment that encourages individuals and social groups ‘to create, produce, disseminate, distribute, and have access to their own cultural expressions, paying due attention to the special circumstances and needs of women as well as various social groups, including persons belonging to minorities and indigenous peoples,’ and ‘to recognize the important contribution of artists, others involved in the creative process, cultural communities, and organizations that support their work, and their central role in nurturing the diversity of cultural expressions.’”

UNESCO stressed in particular that “international promotion and cooperation, especially in the case of developing countries, is at the heart of the Convention (articles 12 to 19). To this effect, the creation of an International Fund for Cultural Diversity has been provided for (Article 18). Resources for this Fund will come from voluntary contributions from Parties, funds allocated by UNESCO’s General Conference, diverse contributions, gifts or bequests, interest due on resources of the Fund, funds raised through collections and receipts from events organized for the benefit of the Fund, or any other resources authorized by the Fund’s regulations.”

In addition, the release affirms that “the concern to ensure coherence between the Convention and other existing international instruments guided states to include a clause (Article 20) aimed at ensuring a relationship of ‘mutual supportiveness, complementarity, and non-subordination’ between these instruments. At the same time, ‘nothing in the present Convention shall be interpreted as modifying rights and obligations of the Parties under any other treaties to which they are parties.’” Moreover, “the Convention establishes a series of follow-up mechanisms aimed at ensuring efficient implementation of the new instrument. Among these, a non-binding mechanism for the settlement of disputes allows, within a strictly cultural perspective, possible divergences of views on the interpretation or application of certain rules or principles relative to the Convention (Article 25) to be dealt with. This mechanism encourages, first and foremost, negotiation, then recourse to good offices or mediation. If no settlement is achieved, a Party may have recourse to conciliation. The Convention does not include any mechanism for sanctions.”

Finally, it should be recalled that UNESCO’s Constitution provides a mandate to both respect the “fruitful diversity of (…) cultures” and to “promote the free flow of ideas by word and image,” principles that are reaffirmed in the Preamble to the Convention. The Organization, which celebrates its 60th anniversary next month, has spared no effort to fulfill this double mission. With this Convention, it completes its normative action aimed at defending cultural diversity in all of its manifestations, and most especially the two pillars of culture: heritage and contemporary creativity.