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Overwhelming Majority for UNESCO Convention

Protection and Promotion of Cultural Diversity

The General Conference of UNESCO, meeting in Paris from October 3 to October 21, approved the Convention on the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions, an international normative instrument that will enter into force three months after its ratification by 30 States. Delegates voted 148 to 2 to approve the document with four abstentions (Australia, Nicaragua, Honduras and Liberia). The US and Issrael opposed it. An In Brief analysis.

The result of a long process of maturation and two years of intense negotiations, punctuated by numerous meetings of independent and then governmental experts, this text which takes the form of an international normative instrument, reinforces the idea already included in the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, unanimously adopted in 2001, that cultural diversity must be considered as a “common heritage of humanity”, and its “defence as an ethical imperative, inseparable from respect for human dignity.” In 2003, Member States requested the Organization to pursue its normative action to defend human creativity, a vital component of the Declaration, as explained in Articles eight and eleven.

* The diversity of cultural expression in the context of globalization
The Convention (>>> here) seeks to reaffirm the links between culture, development and dialogue and to create an innovative platform for international cultural cooperation; to this end, it reaffirms the sovereign right of States to elaborate cultural policies with a view “to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions” and “to create the conditions for cultures to clourish and to freely interact in a mutually beneficial manner” (Article 1).

At the same time, a series of Guiding Principles (Article 2) guarantees that all measures aimed at protecting and promoting the diversity of cultural expressions does not hinder respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms “such as freedom of expression, information and communication, as well as the ability of individuals to choose (them)…”. As well, the “Principle of openness and balance” ensures that when States adopt measures in favour of the diversity of cultural expressions “they should seek to promote, in an appropriate manner, openness to other cultures of the world”.

The rights and obligations of Parties (Articles 5 to 11) include a series of policies and measures aimed at protecting and promoting the diversity of cultural expressions, approaching creativity and all it implies in the context of globalization, where diverse expressions are circulated and made accessible to all via cultural goods and services.

Thus, Parties, recognizing the fundamental role of civil society, will seek to create an environment that encourages individuals and social groups “to create, produce, disseminate, distribute and have access to their own cultural expressions, paying due attention to the special circumstances and needs of women as well as various social groups, including persons belonging to minorities and indigenous peoples”, and “to recognize the important contribution of artists, others involved in the creative process, cultural communities, and organizations that support their work, and their central role in nurturing the diversity of cultural expressions.”

* An International Fund for Cultural Diversity
It should be stressed that international promotion and cooperation, especially in the case of developing countries, is at the heart of the Convention (Articles 12 to 19). To this effect, the creation of an International Fund for Cultural Diversity, has been provided for (Article 18). Resources for this Fund will come from voluntary contributions from Parties, funds allocated by UNESCO’s General Conference, diverse contributions, gifts or bequests, interest due on resources of the Fund, funds raised through collections and receipts from events organized for the benefit of the Fund, or any other resources authorized by the Fund’s regulations.

The concern to ensure coherence between the Convention and other existing international instruments guided States to include a clause (Article 20) aimed at ensuring a relationship of “mutual supportiveness, complementarity and non-subordination” between these instruments. At the same time, “nothing in the present Convention shall be interpreted as modifying rights and obligations of the Parties under any other treaties to which they are parties.”

The Convention establishes a series of follow-up mechanisms aimed at ensuring efficient implementation of the new instrument. Among these, a non binding mechanism for the settlement of disputes allows, within a strictly cultural perspective, possible divergences of views on the interpretation or application of certain rules or principles relatives to the Convention (Article 25) to be dealt with. This mechanism encourages, first and foremost, negotiation, then recourse to good offices or mediation. If no settlement is achieved, a Party may have recourse to conciliation. The Convention does not include any mechanism for sanctions.

Finally, it should be recalled that UNESCO’s Constitution provides a mandate to both respect the “fruitful diversity of (…) cultures” and to “promote the free flow of ideas by word and image”, principles that are reaffirmed in the Preamble to the Convention. The Organization, which celebrates its 60th anniversary next month, has spared no effort to fulfill this double mission. With this Convention, it completes its normative action aimed at defending cultural diversity in all of its manifestations, and most especially the two pillars of culture: heritage and contemporary creativity.

* Step forward
Even though the convention, the result of two years' heated and occasionally bitter negotiations fell short of the hopes of its original sponsors, France and Canada, its adoption by UNESCO was hailed as an important step toward protecting threatened cultures, particulary in development countries. Canada and France won broad support for the convention partly by highlightening the question of its impact on trade liberalization and future trade talks. For instance, while the convention states that it cannot be interpreted as "modifying rights and obligations of the parties under any other treaties to which they are parties", it also requires governments to take it into account in international negotiations.

(Posted: 23 October 2005)

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