Last Update: 9-dec-04 16:44

What is the convention?
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is developing an international convention on cultural diversity.

The draft convention had its start in 2001, when the Member States of UNESCO adopted a “Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity.” The Declaration emphasized the principles of pluralism, respect for human rights, promotion of creativity, and international solidarity. To expand upon the Declaration, the UNESCO General Assembly decided that “the question of cultural diversity as regards the protection of the diversity of cultural contents and artistic expression should be the subject of an international convention.”

In September 2004, the U.S., as a Member State of UNESCO, participated in an intergovernmental meeting to discuss general issues regarding a possible convention and to review a draft of it. [link to draft convention below] A drafting committee is now charged with the production of a new draft document based on comments received from UNESCO’s Member States.


Why do libraries care?
As conveyed in the “U.S. Principles” [link to pdf file],which were developed recently by an intergovernmental working group, the U.S. Government’s position is that it supports a UNESCO convention on cultural diversity that will expand cultural liberty, without limiting individual choices or stifling creativity and cultural development.

Libraries as well as other parts of the U.S. cultural community should stand to benefit from an international treaty that is intended to promote the importance of culture and art in realizing “human rights and fundamental freedoms” and to enhance public access to diverse cultural expressions.


Why is current draft problematic for libraries?
In addition to addressing cultural policies, the draft convention focuses on “cultural goods and services” and addresses the rights and obligations of Member States, including with regard to the production and trade of goods and services. As the draft convention recognizes [Art. 3(4)(c)], cultural goods and services may generate intellectual property. Cultural goods include publications of all kinds, music, visual arts, and audiovisual and other media; services include library services [Annex I to draft convention].

Our concern is to ensure that the convention does not become yet another trade treaty promoting stricter (and unbalanced) intellectual property laws.

The recent “U.S. principles” make this observation: “Goods and services with substantial cultural elements are not the same as culture. . . . A single-minded focus on goods and services runs the risk of ignoring the array of conditions that encourage diversity and development and marginalizing the variety of cultural activities and institutions that do not lend themselves to commercialization.”

Though the Preamble of the current draft convention recognizes that cultural goods and services “must not be treated as ordinary merchandise or consumer goods,” industries that produce such goods and services may seek to use the convention as another means of protecting their products. There are significant international trade and intellectual property treaties in effect already. This convention should not become yet another one.


What should library advocates do?
Read the current draft convention and help identify both the positive aspects and the potential problems. Library advocates need to educate their Cultural Minister and/or appropriate government agencies about the draft convention and to alert them to the issues.



UNESCO Web page on the preliminary draft convention on the protection of the diversity of cultural contents and artistic expressions:


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UNESCO Draft Convention On Cultural Diversity