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United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

The UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions aims to address key issues facing 21st Century Civilization.

The Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions addresses the rise of globalization, the protection and encouragement of diverse cultural and community artistic expressions, and, ultimately, addresses and rejects the theory of the inevitable clash of cultures and civilizations.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)  has, since 1989, advocated the maintenance of intangible cultural heritage as a means by which to encourage sustainable development and peaceful, inter-cultural dialogue. Since the 1998 UNESCO Conference on Culture for Development in Stockholm, Sweden, UNESCO has acknowledged the need to address cultural policy issues in conjunction with sustainable social and economic development and information technology issues. The subsequent formation of the International Network on Cultural Policy (INCP) in 1998, a global network of Cultural Ministers from around the world, and the ensuing formation of the International Network for Cultural Diversity (INCD) in Santorini, Greece, September 2000, an organization of cultural institutions, activists and intellectuals, both reveal a growing concern amongst certain nation states and civil society members on the meaning and consequences on the rising effects of globalization through market expansion and privatization, and the maintenance of diverse cultural knowledge and artistic expressions.

The tragedy of September 11 prompted UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001), a document that equates cultural rights with human rights, simultaneously acknowledging the interrelationship between media pluralism, democratic access and use of digital technology, intellectual property and the ability of community, grassroots cultural groups to maintain their cultural expressions. This multifaceted approach to cultural diversity forms part of a 'new ethic' adopted by UNESCO that aims to promote a more culturally, socially and economically democratic world that sets against fundamentalism and cultural inequity. The ensuing drafting of the upcoming UNESCO convention, an instrument that will be legally binding, has thus garnered much debate and attention from intellectual property organizations, governments, and also civil society groups who (like CFCH) aim to encourage the fostering of diverse cultural and community expressions. As demonstrated in the recent conference held at the Smithsonian from January 10-11 2005, that discussed globalization, diversity and the draft of the UNESCO convention, the debate has circulated around ideas of definitions of culture and cultural goods and services, market expansion, copyright and intellectual property, indigenous and minority community expression and representation. This convention, by directly raising issues of community, cultural voice, roles and agency of nation-states, and existing market and media structures presents probably the most recent, pertinent and challenging document to date that aims to assist and further instigate growing world-wide initiatives to protect cultural diversity and community advocacy.

The next UNESCO Intergovernmental Meeting of Experts on the Preliminary Draft Convention on the Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions will be held from May 25 until June 4, 2005.

The January conference held at the Smithsonian Institution presented a pertinent discussion between key US civil society members and organizations on the drafting of the UNESCO convention. The US discussion currently lags in comparison to similar discussions in Africa, Latin America, select parts of Asia and Western Europe.

Download summaries of the conference presentations: