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Diplomacy in Action

47. Statement by Richard Terrell Miller, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organizations, Department of State, before Commission IV (Culture) of the UNESCO General Conference (October 17, 2003)


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Statement by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
Richard Terrell Miller
U.S. Delegation to the UNESCO General Conference
October 17, 2003

Mr. Chairman, the United States acknowledges and supports the wish of each nation to preserve and promote its unique cultural values and identity in a culturally diverse global society.

We believe that UNESCO has an important role to play in promoting cultural diversity within and among countries. We understand that the overwhelming majority of members came to this Conference prepared to support a resolution calling for work to begin on a convention on cultural diversity. The United States appreciates the willingness of our fellow members to modify the resolution to address some of the concerns we have raised, and it is in this spirit of cooperation that we did not ask for a vote on this resolution. We plan to work constructively with all members to address our concerns during the negotiating process on the convention.

Mr. Chairman, we remain seriously concerned that the proposed convention could conflict with the mandates of other international organizations, could seek to legitimize restrictions on the flow of cultural information or goods or services, and could have serious human rights implications.

It is our hope that, in undertaking consultations with WTO, UNCTAD and WIPO, the Director General will seek to ensure that the proposed cultural diversity convention does not conflict with nor undermine existing legal structures and obligations.

The UNESCO Constitution states that among UNESCO's primary purposes is to "recommend such international agreements as may be necessary to promote the free flow of ideas by word and image" and to "initiate methods of international cooperation calculated to give the people of all countries access" to the materials of others. We trust that, as work proceeds of the proposed convention, member states will keep these purposes in mind.

We recall that some twenty years ago UNESCO embarked on an effort to regulate the flow of information, an effort now broadly acknowledged as misguided. We hope the current effort can avoid the mistakes of that endeavor.

We hope that, as work on the cultural diversity convention progresses, we will focus on the ways we can work together to promote and support cultural diversity, both within and among nations, and not on ways to insulate ourselves from each other and from the artistic, social and political enrichment that diverse sources of culture bring to our lives.

Statement by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
Richard Terrell Miller
U.S. Delegation to the UNESCO General Conference
October 13, 2003

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The United States strongly supports cultural diversity, both within a nation and among nations. We also believe that UNESCO has an important role to play in this area and have submitted a draft resolution concerning next steps that we might undertake to promote cultural diversity.

While we support the promotion of cultural diversity, we have some serious concerns about whether a convention or other legal instrument is the best means for promoting and protecting cultural diversity. Although we are newcomers to this organization, we believe that there has not been sufficient preparation and analysis to begin immediate negotiations on a text of an instrument.

Our concerns fall into three categories:

  • The human rights implications of any measure that might legitimize "balancing" or otherwise controlling the flow of cultural information or goods and services;
  • The importance of individual liberty in cultural matters and the risks to minorities when majority populations use the power of the state and an international legal instrument to promote or enforce certain cultural views or policies;
  • Possible conflicts with other international organizations (WIPO, ITU, WTO, UNCTAD) and the need to ensure that mandates are respected and action coordinated.
In addition, we see a pressing need for technical assistance and capacity building to empower individuals in all societies to make their own cultural choices. We don't see how a convention would help meet this need.

My government would like to have a full discussion of these issues in UNESCO before starting a drafting process on a legal instrument whose goals, at this time, are unclear.

Many delegates seem to link the need for a cultural diversity convention to concerns that are perhaps best summed up in the word "globalization." What an important topic this is for discussion! The world has changed and is changing very fast in every society, but nowhere more so than in developing countries, where traditional societies are trying to

cope with problems different, and on a different scale, from anything they have ever known. The people of these countries face transitions from agrarian life to industrialization, from the farm to the city, from state controlled economies to market-based systems, from autocratic rule to democracy. They maybe faced with explosive population growth, deadly, society-crushing diseases like HIV/AIDS, environmental degradation and poverty. it is-we all know it-too much, too fast! We have a moral duty to help each other, a duty to work together to face these challenges. Indeed, this is at the heart of why the U.S. has rejoined UNESCO.

An easy answer to globalization is to try to shut out the rest of the world. Indeed, this is probably the most natural defensive reaction in all of our societies. A convention to control the flow of cultural ideas, products, or services is a perfect example. Many UN agencies, many UN bodies, including the General Assembly, face the problems of globalization in their own fields, So far, in every case, these bodies have decided that a defensive approach has costs that are too high, and long-term prospects of success that are too low. We believe that this is true in UNESCO's areas as well,

Our vision is for UNESCO to call on its expertise, networks, and resources in education, science, culture and communications to take positive real actions to help empower individuals, particularly those in developing countries, to successfully overcome the challenges of globalization and the rapid and profound changes it brings to their lives and their societies. Cultures evolve and grow to reflect the values, beliefs and needs of their people in a given age. UNESCO can help this evolutionary process. For true cultural diversity, we need to ensure the health of a vast array of cultures, vibrant and powerful enough to face the challenges of life in our day, and in the future. The world needs a UNESCO that opens doors, not one that builds barriers.

Mr. Chairman, my delegation has put forward a draft resolution that we believe would put UNESCO on a positive road on this issue. 1 hope other delegations will give it serious consideration.



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