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A UNESCO International Convention on Cultural Diversity

On February 6, 2003, culture ministers from 16 member countries of the International Network on Cultural Policy (INCP) met with UNESCO Director-General, Mr. Koïchiro Matsuura. At the meeting, the culture ministers reaffirmed how important it was for UNESCO to develop a convention on cultural diversity—a binding instrument that would establish rights and responsibilities for all countries and legitimize their right to preserve or implement national cultural policies supporting the production and dissemination of cultural content. They also stressed the urgency of taking action to deal with the threats currently menacing cultural diversity. Thanking the ministers for their confidence in UNESCO, the Director-General declared that he was “well aware of the need to fill this void in the international legal system” and expressed his desire for “a broad consensus among UNESCO policy-making bodies in order to give this convention the best chance of rapidly coming to pass.”

However, this last statement, which at first glance reiterates an obvious truth—that it’s up to UNESCO member countries to decide the outcome of this request—hides an important question: does a draft convention, as conceived by the project’s backers, truly fall under the jurisdiction of UNESCO? Although not a member of UNESCO, the United States has admitted that it vigorously intervened during the discussions that lead to the adoption of the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, to counter “France and Canada’s efforts to remove cultural issues from the WTO and obtain support for their draft of a ‘new instrument,’ possibly to be created within UNESCO.” If such a perception of the goal of an international convention on cultural diversity were to prevail, we would have good reason to fear that it would not receive the necessary support. It therefore seems important to return to the source of this confusion to clarify the link between the draft convention and UNESCO actions.


Column by Mr. Ivan Bernier, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law at Université Laval in Québec City for Spotlight on Diversity, hosted by the Governmnet of Québec Secretariat for Cultural Diversity

Filed Under: Academic | English | Magazine Article