Cultural diversity

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Speech by UNESCO director-general Koïchiro Matsuura at an Experts Meeting on the theme “Towards the Integration of the Principles of Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialog in Sustainable Development Policies”

An experts meeting on the theme “Towards the Integration of the Principles of Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialog in Sustainable Development Policies” was held at UNESCO headquarters May 21 to 23, 2007. The meeting, organized by UNESCO in collaboration with the Arab League Educational, Cultural, and Scientific Organization (ALECSO), sought to translate into concrete policies the principles of cultural diversity and intercultural dialog after a critical analysis of the vocabulary used by the intellectual community and the political world.

On May 21, 2007, on the occasion of World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, UNESCO director-general Koïchiro Matsuura gave a speech to open the meeting. He began by thanking ALECSO director-general Mongi Bousnina, with whom UNESCO has been working closely for many years. Mr. Matsuura also thanked the various experts from government and non-government organizations for generously agreeing to take part in the meeting.

“Today, the international community must agree on a vocabulary and an innovative method that places the principles of cultural diversity and dialog at the heart of sustainable development,” declared Mr. Matsuura. “That is what UNESCO has worked to achieve within the framework of the United Nations, in particular through the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001),” he continued. “In fact, all the work accomplished by UNESCO in this field since its inception, and the seven international conventions on the protection and promotion of cultural diversity in its many manifestations this has made it possible to adopt, provides compelling proof today that cultures are not closed and inward-looking.”

According to Matsuura, “the issue of terminology is important because, ultimately, it speaks to and underpins our entire concept of cultural diversity. It also speaks to our ability to convince individual states and all of the United Nations and its development agencies of the important role of culture, cultural exchange, and intercultural dialog in the emergence of a development model that is truly sustainable.” To meet these challenges, he added, certain action strategies had already been set out. Mr. Matsuura cited the example of actions and/or positions ensuing from the 2001 United Nations global agenda for a dialog between civilizations, the Report of the High-Level Group of the Alliance of Civilizations published in the fall of 2006, and the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in 2002 in Johannesburg.

On the same topic, Mr. Matsuura added that “all throughout recent years, UNESCO has, through a cross-sector and multidisciplinary approach, placed greater emphasis on cultural dialog, quality education, the revision of schoolbooks, and the promotion of cultural, linguistic, and religious diversity, which led to the development and adoption by our organization’s Executive Council of an action plan to promote dialog between peoples in 2006. Without a doubt, it is now time to articulate these various initiatives, clarify the concepts used, and bring consistency to our thinking. Indeed, this is the very issue being discussed today. I am pleased to note that the issues of terminology and practical and concrete policies will also be addressed,” stated Matsuura.

In closing, Matsuura declared that “UNESCO is more aware than ever of the links between cultural diversity, intercultural dialog, and sustainable development (…) and has a very major responsibility in this regard. We must give ourselves the means to reconcile universal rights with the diversity of the human condition in the new reality created by globalization. I will therefore be following your discussions with great interest. I am sure they will measure up to these issues.”

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