Cultural diversity

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Message from Mr. Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People

The 2007 edition of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People was held on August 9. In a message written for the occasion, UNESCO general director Koïchiro Matsuura stated: “Indigenous knowledge systems represent an invaluable and irreplaceable resource and a critical component of sustainable development. The worldviews of most indigenous peoples, which recognize the inextricable links between culture and nature, clearly resonate with UNESCO’s efforts to protect and promote cultural as well as biological diversity. This is a matter of growing concern to many indigenous communities around the world and constitutes the essence of their recent call for “development with identity.” The International Day of the World’s Indigenous People provides an excellent opportunity for the international community to reflect on indigenous peoples’ perspectives and aspirations, especially on how they relate to the sustainable development of our planet.”

Mr. Matsuura stressed that UNESCO’s most unique contribution towards enhancing the worldwide visibility of indigenous issues lies in its standard-setting activity. The general director had this to say on the subject: “The UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, adopted in 2001, specifically refers to the rights of indigenous peoples (Article 4) and the Declaration’s action plan calls for “respecting and protecting traditional knowledge, in particular that of indigenous peoples,” adding “recognizing [its] contribution, particularly with regard to environmental protection and the management of natural resources and fostering synergies between modern science and local knowledge.” ”

Mr. Matsuura went on to note that UNESCO Member States have subsequently adopted two legally binding international treaties, which likewise promise to have a positive impact for indigenous peoples. He mentioned that the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which entered into force in April 2006, “bears particular significance on this International Day. The Convention’s preamble reminds us not only that intangible cultural heritage is a mainspring of cultural diversity and a guarantee of sustainable development, but specifically refers to the important role of the world’s indigenous communities in the production, safeguarding, maintenance and re-creation of intangible cultural heritage.”

Regarding the second normative instrument—the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions—Mr. Matsuura said: “Another landmark has been achieved with the convention’s entry into force in March of this year. Indeed, this event fulfils item 14 of the Programme of Action for the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People (2005-2014), which encourages all relevant actors to work towards the adoption and ratification by States of the convention to ensure the right of indigenous peoples to create and disseminate in a fair environment their cultural goods and services, and their traditional expressions, so that they might benefit from them in the future.”

Mr. Matsuura added that “these two instruments, together with the well-known World Heritage Convention of 1972, constitute the foundation of UNESCO’s legal framework to safeguard all aspects of cultural diversity.”

The International Day of the World's Indigenous People is observed by the International community every year on August 9. The day provides an opportunity to raise awareness of indigenous peoples' cultures and the great diversity that they represent. It is also an occasion to redouble efforts to address the issues of exclusion, discrimination, and poverty which are still the daily reality for many of these peoples.

Click here for the full text of Mr. Matsuura’s message.

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