UNESCO Round Table on Indigenous Peoples: Development with Culture and Identity

On 15 September, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, opened a Round Table entitled “Development with Culture and Identity” on the occasion of the first official visit of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to the Organization, represented by its Chair, Ms Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, as well as Ms Margaret Lokawua and Mr Carlos Mamani Condori, responsible for the Forum’s work on education, culture, environment and gender and women’s issues.

The Round Table also coincided with the annual meeting of the UN Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues, which is chaired by UNESCO for the period 2008-2009.

“The historic adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the UN General Assembly on 13 September 2007 signalled an unprecedented advance in global attention to indigenous peoples’ concerns”, said the Director-General. “In approving this landmark Declaration, the UN took a major step forward in the protection and promotion of indigenous peoples’ rights and sent a clear signal in this regard to the international community. It now falls to us - collectively - to ensure that these commitments are widely disseminated, understood and translated into policies that will address indigenous peoples’ concerns.”

“As the only UN agency with an explicit mandate in the field of culture, UNESCO’s work is intrinsically focused on questions of development, culture and identity. Our strategy puts culture at the core of the development agenda. It is premised on an understanding of cultural diversity as a vital resource for development, not only in terms of economic growth but also as a means to achieve a more satisfactory intellectual, emotional and moral existence, and to sustain biological diversity and the natural environment,” continued Mr Matsuura.

The Director-General commented that the interdisciplinary approach that had characterized UNESCO involvement in the First International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 1995-2004 was continuing during the ongoing Second International Decade 2005-2014. “This focuses on the safeguarding of cultural diversity, enhancement of traditional knowledge through the Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems programme – LINKS – and the empowerment of indigenous peoples. Other activities include the development of guidelines on inclusive education to ensure Education for All, city-based initiatives to fight racism and discrimination, culturally sensitive HIV and AIDS programming, the promotion of pluralistic media, and research on ways to foster respect for indigenous peoples.

“In all of this, languages are critical, particularly in 2008, proclaimed International Year of Languages, for which UNESCO is lead agency. UNESCO is therefore highlighting the importance of linguistic diversity and multilingualism with the goal of fostering the protection and promotion of all languages in all aspects of a society’s life, and especially in education systems. This is a fundamental issue for most indigenous communities, who together account for more than 5,000 languages in over 70 countries on six continents; that is nearly 75% of all languages believed to exist. Worryingly, experts tell us that within a few generations, more than 50% of the estimated 7,000 languages spoken in the world today may disappear. This would constitute an enormous loss for humankind and for global cultural diversity. When a language disappears, a culture disappears and the world is impoverished by it,” Mr Matsuura warned.

In closing, the Director-General expressed his hope that “this Official Visit by the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the annual meeting of the Inter-Agency Support Group will create new opportunities for dialogue and collaboration between indigenous and non-indigenous partners, as well as a deeper appreciation of indigenous worldviews and cultures. It is only through this genuine dialogue that we can hope adequately to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and build “an international partnership for development” that is relevant to all communities everywhere.”

  • Author(s):Office of the Spokesperson
  • Source:Flash Info N° 116-2008
  • 17-09-2008
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