Cultural diversity

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Adoption of the Convention of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions at UNESCO: “A historic victory in the campaign to protect the right of nations to set their own cultural policies”


Early in the evening on Thursday October 20, UNESCO formally adopted the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions in a vote held during the plenary session of the 33rd UNESCO General Conference. UNESCO member states voted as follows:

  • FOR: 148
  • AGAINST: 2 (United States of America and Israel)
  • ABSTENTION: 4 (Australia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Liberia)

Earlier, on October 17, Commission IV (Culture), under the chairmanship of Jaime Nualart of Mexico, had discussed agenda item 8.3—Draft Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions—the most hotly anticipated item at the General Conference, and adopted the proposed draft, thereby paving the way for the vote at the General Conference, which opened in Paris on October 3. Commission IV called on the General Conference to adopt the draft convention as recommended by the Executive Council. It also recommended voting in favor of the Japanese-sponsored resolution aimed at providing “supplementary explanations encouraging ratification of the Convention by member states.” Sixteen delegations were represented by their respective ministers of culture, including Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Canada and Québec, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ivory Coast, Chile, Cuba, Ghana, Haiti, Mexico, South Africa, and Togo. Over 60 delegations spoke in turn, urging adoption of the convention. After member states spoke out, NGOs made their case. In total, 79 nations (including the United Kingdom speaking on behalf of the25 EU member states, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, and Turkey; and Costa Rica speaking for the G77/China), 2 observers, and 10 NGOs spoke on the importance of the convention and called in virtual unanimity for its immediate adoption. The United States, Israel, and Australia were the only states opposed to the draft document.

Once the general declarations were made, the 28 amendments tabled by the United States had to be examined by Commission IV. A procedural discussion was held. Despite the extremely limited support for its position, the United States called for a formal vote on each of the 28 amendments. At each show of hands, only three or four countries (Israel, Australia, Rwanda, Kiribati) supported the U.S. position, compared to 140 to 150 votes against. Four or five countries (Thailand, the Philippines, Korea, Australia, Swaziland) were frequent abstainers. The 28 amendments were rejected one by one at over 145 votes to 3. Despite these results, the United States also demanded a vote on the draft convention, the results of which were unequivocal: 151 countries in favor of the text finalized in June, 2 opposed (United States and Israel), and 2 abstentions (Australia and Kiribati). After the vote, five delegations issued statements to be annexed to the minutes of the Commission meeting.

In the plenary session that followed, Japan presented its “revised draft resolution” subsequent to negotiations with the EU and Canada. The U.S. intervened in its turn to propose an amendment to the revised resolution, but it was rejected by a vote of 116 to 4. The resolution on the Japanese proposal was adopted by 132 votes to 2 (USA and Israel), with three countries abstaining (including Australia and Afghanistan).

The draft Convention had already been approved by the UNESCO Executive Board on September 29. It recommended to the 33rd UNESCO General Conference that it examine the Preliminary Draft Convention on the Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions adopted at the third session of the intergovernmental meeting held from May 25 to June 3, 2005 and adopt it as a UNESCO Convention (See our Bulletin No. 28 of September 26)