50. U.S. opening statement, First Session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Meeting of Experts on Developing a Convention on Cultural Diversity (September 2004)

Statement of the United States of America at the First Session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Meeting of Experts on Developing a Convention on Cultural Diversity

I am Robert Martin, Director of the United States Institute of Museum and Library Services, one of the key cultural agencies in the United States.  I am honored to be one of the co-heads of the U. S. Delegation to this important meeting.  Our delegation is pleased to have the opportunity to be here at this first intergovernmental meeting of experts to discuss the development of a convention on cultural diversity.  The United States believes that such a convention could be a useful tool for supporting and promoting cultural diversity, and we wish to engage constructively with other member states in developing a convention that all members can endorse.  We understand the central role that culture plays in the formation of the identity of people around the world.


Any discussion of cultural diversity necessarily must take into account the concept of cultural liberty.  As the UNDP Human Development Report 2004 stated, “Culture is not a frozen set of values and practices.”  Cultures are dynamic and must be allowed to change according to the will of individuals making independent choices about what is of value and what they wish to produce, see, hear or otherwise experience.  Cultural diversity thrives in an atmosphere of cultural liberty, when individuals have the freedom to preserve traditional values and practices and to pursue new and untried cultural and expressive directions. 


In the United States, we value and promote cultural diversity.  Our cultural life flourishes in a myriad of environments, from the smallest community organizations to large urban institutions, from libraries and museums to schools and universities, from historical societies and national parks to theaters and concert halls.  As in all societies, our cultural forms claim their origins from a multiplicity of sources around the globe and are continually enriched by interaction between and among cultures.


The vitality of cultural life derives from the great diversity of our citizens themselves -- in their ethnic origins; in the multiplicity of their family and community traditions; in their astonishingly varied linguistic, musical, and culinary heritage; and in their folk art forms – and it derives from their freedom to interact with and learn from others. 


A vibrant and varied culture is ever changing.  Each generation enriches cultural life by building on its own cultural heritage and by creatively responding to changing environments and circumstances. 


We therefore would suggest to our fellow delegates that the role of our governments is and should be to create a climate in which creativity and diversity flourish.  It is imperative that each government provide a solid framework that promotes the activities and expressions of its diverse cultures, but does not direct or restrict their development, nor limit their interaction with other communities. 


We are deeply concerned that the preliminary draft convention circulated prior to today’s meeting does not address the fundamental concept of cultural liberty, which is essential to sustaining cultural diversity.  Moreover, it suggests no substantive steps that could have an immediate impact on fostering greater awareness and appreciation of diverse cultures, both within our borders and beyond.


Our delegation therefore proposes that we use this opportunity to develop a substantive initiative that will, in fact, promote cultural diversity and create opportunities for lesser-developed nations to promote their cultures globally.  Let us recognize, build upon, and refine the ongoing and important efforts of existing UNESCO programs, rather than creating barriers and establishing costly bureaucratic structures.  Let us find ways to nourish and promote cultural diversity, instead of diverting limited funds for administration.  Our focus today is to ensure that every nation has the capacity to promote human creativity in all its varied forms and to share its culture with the world. 


We look forward to working together with the representatives of other nations to increase opportunities for cultural interaction, and to sharing additional thoughts, ideas and concerns throughout these meetings.  We are hopeful that a spirit of cooperation and constructive dialogue will lead to the development of a convention that all nations can embrace.