Cultural diversity

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Speech by the director-general of UNESCO at opening of general policy debate of the of the 34th Session of the UNESCO's General Conference

On October 17, 2007, UNESCO director-general Koïchiro Matsuura gave a speech at the opening of the general policy debate of the 34th session of the UNESCO General Conference. In this important address, the director-general reviewed UNESCO achievements of note as well as the organization's mission, future directions, and budget policies.

In keeping with the theme of this newsletter, we will have a closer look at the aspects of Mr. Matsuura's speech that deal with issues related to the diversity of cultural expressions. For a look at all the topics addressed by the director-general, you can view the complete version of the speech here.

During his address, Mr. Matsuura went over the foundations of the UNESCO mission. He reminded listeners that the “global imperative of contributing to peace, sustainable development, cultural dialog, and the elimination of poverty is as current and crucial as ever, and constitutes our mission statement as an organization.”

Mr. Matsuura then presented the five main strategic objectives that will guide UNESCO's action, one of them being the promotion of cultural diversity. Speaking on this topic, Mr. Matsuura said, “Development and dialog are first and foremost human endeavors. Promoting cultural diversity, intercultural dialog, and a culture of peace means recognizing that culture is an integral part of all human activity, one that is indissociable from development. It also means showing the importance of exchange and dialog for social cohesion and reconciliation, and fostering every possible opportunity for a genuine culture of peace.”

Mr. Matsuura went on to present five specific functions by which UNESCO could promote these objectives. One of UNESCO's main functions, he argued, is to serve as a “laboratory of ideas” through its “ability to engage the international community in informed, critical, and reflective debate on global issues in its various areas of jurisdiction. The various national commissions, chairs, centers, and institutes are invaluable partners in this respect […]. The way in which we can incorporate the principles of cultural diversity and intercultural dialog into sustainable development policy is another example. This is a genuine challenge for our organization, which has undertaken a major effort to reflect upon and clarify concepts relating to the dynamic of cultures. This effort continues today in our work to prepare the next World Report on Cultural Diversity and in all of our cultural dialog initiatives.”

The director-general went on to note that another of the five functions that UNESCO has fulfilled since its foundation is the “normative function.” He declared, “The field of culture has been a major focus in this regard, with the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity and the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage in 2001, the convention on intangible heritage and the Declaration Concerning the Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage in 2003, and finally, the Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions in 2005. The two most recent conventions have been outstanding successes, both for the speed with which they came into effect and the number of ratifications—with 82 states parties for the 2003 convention, and 70 for the 2005 convention. Work to draft conventional operational directives is will underway, and both should be begin delivering on their promise in the near future,” Mr. Matsuura explained.

The director-general than mentioned that the 2001 convention had been ratified by only 15 state parties to date and had yet to come into effect. “I therefore take this opportunity to urge all of you to ratify this convention as quickly as possible, for it does not merit such a lack of interest.” Pointing to the fact that of the 35 conventions adopted since UNESCO's inception, 22 were in the field of culture, Mr. Matsuura said, “UNESCO has built a comprehensive normative foundation well suited to protecting and promoting the multiple aspects of cultural diversity in a complementary manner.”

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