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Diplomacy in Action

24. Statement of the U.S. Delegation on the draft convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (September 24, 2002)



Intergovernmental Meeting of Experts on the Preliminary Draft Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage
Paris, September 24, 2002
Statement from the US Delegation

Mr. Chairman, the United States is very happy to be here and to be rejoining UNESCO in the near future. On behalf of our delegation I appreciate your good wishes and the warm words of welcome by the Director General and others. We of course have been active as an observer nation and many of our organizations have participated in UNESCO programs and projects over the years. Now we look forward to full participation and engagement with UNESCO and our fellow nations.

The issue before us, the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage, is very important to the United States. We have a strong concern for preserving and encouraging the living cultural heritage of our nation, populated as it is by people coming from virtually every nation on earth and practicing an incredibly rich and diverse range of cultures and traditions. We find support for varied cultural traditions important for us as a democracy. It is important that citizens recognize and respect the cultural values of their neighbors. We value the intangible cultural heritage of varied communities not only in their own right for their importance within those communities but also for the contributions they make to our larger society and nation as a whole.

Mr. Chairman, regarding the scope of our task, the US supports the views of the Canadian delegation that any approach to intangible cultural heritage needs to be flexible and multi-faceted. We also endorse the view expressed by the Australian delegation. Any statement should have clear and common objectives, explicit and achievable standards and a strategically focused scope and action plan, expressed in simple and unambiguous language.

The United States has a history of safeguarding and supporting intangible cultural heritage. Through government funding agencies such as the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, we support documentation, research, and public programs in folk and traditional arts. The National Heritage Fellowship Program of the National Endowment of the Arts, based on the Japanese National Living Treasures Program, honors master traditional artists. The Library of Congress of the US Government has established and maintains an American Folklore Center and an Archive of Folk Culture. The National Park Service also offers many programs dealing with the preservation of intangible cultural heritage.

The Smithsonian Institution also researches intangible cultural heritage in the US and around the world and produces the annual Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recording, exhibits, and educational programs. It has worked closely with UNESCO on this very issue.

The preservation and protection of the world's intangible cultural heritage deserves our full and immediate attention. Whether a convention is the appropriate instrument with which to take action is an issue which, the United States believes, deserves further discussion. We believe a plan of action that provides clear strategies and goals and that offers tangible incentives for adoption and implementation might best serve our purposes. Individual states could take on the task of developing appropriate action plans to address intangible cultural heritage while UNESCO could serve the very important role of providing the mechanism for sharing, evaluating, and supporting model action plans.

As a country which finds strength and value in our own great diversity and recognizes the value of intangible cultural heritage around the world, we seek an instrument which all of us are able to support and we look forward to playing a constructive role in pursuit of this goal.

Thank you Mr. Chairman

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