The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has adopted a Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, marking the first time the international community adopts a standard-setting instrument in this field.
"This is the first time the international community has endowed itself with such a comprehensive standard-setting instrument, elevating cultural diversity to the rank of 'common heritage of humanity - as necessary for the human race as bio-diversity in the natural realm' - and makes its protection an ethical imperative, inseparable from respect for human dignity," said UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura.
The text was adopted by acclamation on 2 November, the last day of UNESCO's 31st General Conference in Paris.
Stressing his hope that the new instrument would "one day acquire as much force as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," Mr. Matsuura said the Declaration reaffirmed the conviction by UNESCO members that intercultural dialogue was the best guarantee of peace, thus categorically rejecting the idea that conflicts between cultures and civilizations were inevitable.
During their annual session, UNESCO members also adopted a Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, banning the pillaging of ancient shipwrecks and sunken archaeological sites for commercial exploitation.
In dealing with heritage preservation, the Conference authorized UNESCO to pursue its work for the protection and enhancement of intangible cultural heritage, including linguistic heritage. It requested UNESCO to work on the drafting of a standard-setting instrument on the protection of threatened cultures.
The participants asked UNESCO to prepare a draft declaration against the intentional destruction of cultural heritage aimed at preventing crimes such as the demolition by the Taliban of the giant Buddha statues of Bamiyan. The aim of the Declaration would be to reinforce provisions contained in existing international cultural heritage conventions.
The General Conference endorsed the call by Director-General Matsuura for the launch, under the auspices of UNESCO, of an international effort to safeguard the heritage of the Old City of Jerusalem, including the setting up of a comprehensive plan for the preservation of the city's heritage.