UNESCO Convention Comes into Force This Month

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By Wonder Guchu GOREE ISLAND, Senegal Namibia is one of the 148 countries that ratified the UNESCO Convention on the Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (CCD),which comes into effect on March 18, 2007. The Convention that seeks to protect and promote cultural diversity is considered to be a moral victory in the long-running fight to preserve the world’s cultural richness. Only two countries – United States and Israel – voted against the adoption of the Convention on October 20, 2005 during the UNESCO General Conference in Paris, France. However, the required number of 30 ratifications was reached on December 18, 2006, thereby making it possible for the Convention to come into force this month. The Convention that sets out common rules, principles and points of reference for cultural diversity at global level will make it possible for the international community to reach consensus on a number of issues affecting cultural assets. It also recognizes the role and legitimacy of public policies in protecting and promoting cultural diversity as well as in recognizing the importance of international cooperation when dealing with cultural vulnerabilities, especially in developing countries, and to defining appropriate links with other international instruments that enable the Convention to be implemented effectively. Described as presenting a new platform for tackling culture in the wider context of sustainable development, the Convention offers protection to cultural assets that are under threat of extinction as a result of globalization. For example, UNESCO notes that 50 percent of the world languages are in danger of extinction and that 90 percent are not represented on the Internet. In addition, developed countries monopolize the world cultural industries with, for example, 88 countries going without film productions of their own. Besides promoting diversity in those areas, the Convention reaffirms the links between culture, development and dialogue in order to create a platform for global cooperation, including the creation of an international fund for cultural diversity. It highlights the importance of intellectual property rights in sustaining those involved in cultural creativity and reaffirms that freedom of thought, expression and information, as well as diversity of the media, enables cultural expressions to flourish within societies. It also supports UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity adopted in 2001, which recognized cultural diversity as “a source of exchange, innovation and creativity,” a common heritage of humanity that “should be recognized and affirmed for the benefit of present and future generations.” The new Convention reaffirms the sovereign right of States to elaborate cultural policies with a view “to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions and reinforce international cooperation” while respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms. Non-governmental organizations, such as the International Network on Cultural Diversity (INCD) and the campaign for Communication Rights in the Information Society (CRIS), made it clear that the Convention should not be subordinated to the World Trade Organization but should specifically support cultural and media diversity inside countries, not only between them. In earlier discussions prior to the adoption of the Convention, the role of communication in the struggle for protection of cultural diversity was also a matter of concern in the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) held in Geneva in 2003 and in Tunis in 2005.