Visiting UNESCO, Jacques Chirac calls for the adoption of international conventions on Bioethics and on Cultural DiversityWe must now “enshrine” principles of cultural diversity “in law by means of a convention”, and similarly, “we need to set out the principles of bioethics in international public law” in a “universally applicable instrument”, declared President of France Jacques Chirac to UNESCO’s190 Member States, meeting in Paris for the 32nd session of the Organization’s General Conference, presided by Michael Abiola Omolewa of Nigeria.
The French President applauded the return of the United States of America to UNESCO, as well as the recent joining of Timor-Leste, and stressed that “Each culture expresses a different facet of human experience and contributes its own history and special genius.”
Commending the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity adopted by UNESCO in 2001 and the International Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, about to be adopted by the General Conference, Jacques Chirac called on States to bolster the defense of cultural diversity by a convention which would be a new “extension of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and uphold its principles” and would “recognize each country’s right to adopt or maintain the public policies necessary for the preservation and development of its cultural and linguistic heritage.”
The Convention, continued Mr Chirac, “will be the international community’s response to attempts to use peoples’ identities to isolate them, distortion of popular traditions to oppose peoples and to turn them against each other in order to dominate them.” According to the French Head of State, “freedom flourishes under the rule of law and is stifled by anarchy […]. Far from any form of protectionism, the convention on cultural diversity will provide the instrument for surer circulation of ideas by being more respectful of others.”
The French President then evoked the international community’s “need for scientific ethics and rules to protect the integrity and dignity of humans”, justifying it on one hand by the “new ethical questions” raised by extraordinary recent scientific advances, and on the other hand by the fact of “new threats and new abuses: eugenics, discrimination based on genetic heritage, selling of gametes over the internet, ‘surrogate mother’ services, traffic in human organs, clinics specialized in euthanasia, and medical experiments under conditions that are contrary to human dignity.”
“These abuses are unacceptable,” affirmed Mr Chirac. “The right to security [...] prohibits subjugating or selling the human body. Our bodies are always endowed with human dignity; they cannot be treated as commodities or merchandise.”
“In the face of such threats, reflection is as necessary and as urgent as action,” stated the French President. A number of countries, including France, as well as international organizations, have drafted declarations of principles and ethical rules in this domain. He mentioned the “current debate about a universal ban on human reproductive cloning” at the UN, calling on “everyone to act in accordance with their responsibilities” to “reach a consensus as quickly as possible.”
But because existing instruments are flawed by “loopholes and incompatibilities,” according to Mr Chirac, which “those who want to get around them can easily find”, “France feels that a convention would be the most successful means. One of the first steps would be to adopt a universal declaration to enshrine the fundamental principles. This is what the UNESCO ethics committees and the Director-General recommend.”
“Under these circumstances,” he continued, “we should undoubtedly provide the international community with an independent body of experts with high moral values that is responsible for explaining these principles and developing new ones as needed […]. The experience and high quality work of the UNESCO International Bioethics Committee make it a prototype for the kind of institution we have in mind.”
“UNESCO is the appropriate forum for drafting this text. […]. By carrying this grand project through to completion, UNESCO will remain faithful to its dual mission: protecting human dignity and promoting scientific progress. Science shall thus continue its quest for knowledge with greater assurance, based on clear ethical standards that are universally recognized to serve humankind and civilization,” concluded the French President.
Text of the Speech by Mr Jacques Chirac
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