Cultural diversity

News Releases / Speeches / Declarations

The Draft Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions to the 33rd session of the UNESCO General Conference: " I t is now up to the member states to assume their responsibility"

UNESCO, le 3 octobre 2005 – 2005/10/03

More than 2,000 participants from 191 member countries, including many ministers and several heads of state and government, were in attendance at UNESCO headquarters in Paris on October 3 for the start of the 33rd session of the UNESCO General Conference scheduled to continue through October 21.

Three standard-setting instruments are on the agenda of the General Conference, including the Preliminary Draft Convention on the Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions, which Commission IV (Culture) will review around mid-October. Many observers believe the 33rd session of the UNESCO General Conference “ should mark a crucial step in discussion of this Draft Convention supported by many member states but fiercely opposed by the USA.” They also expect that UNESCO’s intention to guarantee cultural diversity through a “legally binding, international standard-setting instrument ” that authorizes states to subsidize cultural products by exempting them from normal trade rules should spur heated debate, [especially since] the USA is clearly hostile to this concept.

At the 172nd session of UNESCO’s Executive Board, which on September 29 almost unanimously adopted the draft amendment recommending that the General Conference at its 33rd session consider the preliminary draft as a draft convention and adopt it as a UNESCO convention (see our Bulletin No 28, September 26), Director-General Koichiro Matsuura declared that the Convention on the Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions “clearly remains a sensitive issue,” and that “it is now up to the member states to assume their responsibility. I hope that we will be able to reach an agreement that serves the best interests of our Organization.”

During a special session at the 33rd UNESCO General Conference to mark the 60th anniversary of the Organization, President Horst Köhler of Germany made a plea for cultural diversity at UNESCO, stressing “diversity, partnership, and respect” to guarantee human dignity. President Köhler emphasized the value of cultural diversity for the wellbeing of the international community and voiced support for the protection of cultural diversity, a subject of heated debate at the 33rd UNESCO General Conference , due mainly to the United States’ refusal to sign a legally binding agreement on the matter: “A strong and self-confident culture gives the individual inner strength and a sense of direction. People are keenly aware of this and that is why they are increasingly mindful of their cultural identity: the legacy that has shaped them, distinguishes them from others, and made them what they are. […] This does not mean they are running away from, or putting up barriers against anything. […] Cultural diversity is important for individuals; it helps them find their place in the world and enables them to engage the world and have the inner strength and composure to set out into the world. […] That is why it is so crucial to strengthen our cultures’ sense of inner confidence and also their respect for other cultures,” President Köhler declared, advocating a world of partnership between cultures that would be beneficial to individuals and communities in developed and developing countries alike, as “a partnership between cultures would prevent cultural imperialism and the attempt to withdraw into individual identity, providing a foundation for global economic cooperation.”

Speaking on the same topic, Luxembourg’s deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs Jean Asselborn stated that “the dialog between cultures […] will find new footing in international relations with the adoption […] of a new standard-setting instrument on cultural diversity—the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. I would like to congratulate everyone for their hard work in full awareness of the significance and urgency of the task since the last UNESCO General Conference to give this Organization and the international community a text that duly sets out commitments. The convention will mark a genuine desire to better understand the issues, increase mutual respect and discussion, enhance dialog between all cultures and ensure their development, and share deep convictions rooted in common values. Luxembourg hopes the text experts developed in June will be adopted by consensus during this 33rd session of the UNESCO General Conference and will soon be ratified by its signatories so it may take effect in the near future.”

Sri Lankan president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga also spoke in support of the Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions : “ We cannot allow a single vision, a single set of ideas, a single plan to encompass the entire world,” she stated, describing such a world as “terribly poor” and “dangerously oppressive.” The Sri Lankan president and her Ghanaian counterpart, Mr. John Kufuor, stressed the importance of UNESCO’s efforts in developing a spirit of “tolerance and dialog.” Reporting on these statements, news source Quotidien du peuple de Chine notes that “the Preliminary Draft Convention […], a legally binding document that seeks to acknowledge the special nature of culture and exempt it from World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, was signed by 130 member states in June in Paris. It is opposed by the United States, which criticize it as protectionist […] and a barrier to free trade.”

According to Swiss ambassador to UNESCO Ernst Iten, Switzerland will support the Draft Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions .Switzerland believes adoption of an initial draft convention is crucial: “We are a multicultural country, and cultural diversity is part and parcel of our identity. The principle is enshrined in the Swiss constitution, and our government has a duty to ensure it is respected and enforced.”