Presentation By:

Jones Kyazze
UNESCO Representative to United Nations


The Meeting of the NGO Committee On the International Decade of the Indigenous Peoples in the Framework of the United Nations
Year for Cultural Heritage, 2002

New York University
Wednesday, 15th May 2002

The Co-Chairs, Our Sponsors, the NGO Committee on the UN Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples, Distinguished Panelists,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good Evening,

Your programme this evening sets an ideal stage and framework for me as an indigenous African - Ugandan, brought up in a very traditionalist environment of Buganda, the best known and most assertive Kingdom in Uganda, who received all my primary education in traditional schools, dispensed in my Mother tongue, Luganda - which did not prevent me from going on to learn English, Swahili, French and Spanish later on, and continuing to take an active role in my culture while studying at Makerere University, Uganda, where History and Education were my major interests.

With that background and, a long career at UNESCO, the major Specialised Agency of the United Nations system, entrusted with a mandate for Culture, I can attest to the value of being grounded into, and taking pride, in one's indigenous culture. Therefore, I greatly appreciate, with thanks, the opportunity given to me by the organizers of this meeting to address this important gathering, in this academic environment, of this great city of New York, endowed with a unique and beautiful cultural diversity.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have often been cut down to size and taken it gracefully, but to address the topic of UNESCO's action regarding the UN Year for Cultural Heritage in 7-minutes is a really small size. Let us quickly see how we fit into that small size.

UNESCO, in exercising the Mandate relating to its (official) areas of competence, which, as you know, are: Education, Science (including Social and Human Sciences), Culture and Communication, focusing on the normative role, that is setting standards and advocacy for action by the international community, the National Governments, NGOs and individuals, through scientific research, publication of studies and providing advisory and capacity building services.

That mobilisation of action, in a multi-faceted approach is largely carried out through global frameworks such as World conferences, International Days, International Years, International Decades or even Universal Declarations, and Proclamations.

Limiting ourselves to Culture and, in the very recent past, we can point to:

- The proclamation of 21st February as the International Mother Language Day, since the year 2000, which has drawn attention to the great of risk of seeing half of the estimated 6,000 indigenous languages disappear into oblivion in the next 20 years or so - unless something is done about their protection.

- The Proclamation of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity - for which UNESCO set up an International Committee in May 2001, with the first list proclaimed in the same year. (My Mother tongue, Luganda, was a candidate, but……)

- The UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity of November 2001, which was also endorsed by the UN General Assembly at its 56th Session, last December.

- The International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples, stretching from 1995 to 2004, and with which I am sure you must be quite familiar. And, of course,

- The United Nations Year for Cultural Heritage, 2002, for which the UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, launched the Plan of Action, here in New York, at the United Nations at the beginning of April this year. The plan aims at launching a long term Process of cultural heritage protection.

That Plan of Action, which is embodied in a well laid out kit:

- Attempts to list and highlight as many as twenty (20) different aspects of cultural heritage including, Cultural and Natural Heritage Sites, Historic Cities, Cultural

Landscapes, The Underwater Heritage, The Movable Cultural Heritage, The Cinematographic Heritage, Oral Traditions, Languages, Festive Events, Rites and Beliefs, The Performing Arts, Traditional Medicine and Culinary Traditions.

- The Plan spells out the concrete actions proposed and, lays a great emphasis on the protection of the oral and intangible cultural heritage of humanity, which significantly focuses on issues of the indigenous people.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it must be said that UNESCO's action, with regard to the cultural heritage and to indigenous peoples issues, did not commence with the said UN Cultural Heritage Year (2002), or even the International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples, (1995-2004). Many earlier programmes, such as the Iron Routes, the Silk Routes, Publication of works, such as the General History of Africa, the General History of the Caribbean, the Education Programmes for the minority groups, such as the Nomad's, have had an underlying objective of protecting our common heritage and highlighting the contribution of that totality to Human development.

By initiating the United Nations Year for Cultural Heritage, I believe that UNESCO intended to mobilise attention and action once again for all the various aspects of our global cultural heritage in a most inclusive manner.

At the same time, Ladies and Gentlemen, with the declaration of 2002 as the United Nations Year for Cultural Heritage, UNESCO and the United Nations Community wanted to celebrate the 30 years since the 1972 Convention on Cultural Heritage, which is celebrated as the most popular convention, signed by 167 State Parties and boasting a list of over 720 sites, spread over 124 countries in the world. The savage destruction of the Bamyian Buddhas, representing an expression of a minority group in Afghanistan, struck the world community as a brutal reminder of the need to strictly observe the 1972 Convention.

Finally, for UNESCO, which cherishes international cooperation and understanding, the Year for Cultural Heritage celebrates the partnerships which have been weaved for advocacy and action towards the protection of Cultural Heritage, especially indigenous heritage and respect for Cultural Diversity, as well as the promotion of a healthier dialogue amongst civilizations, as great advantages for peace and development.

I thank you for your attention.



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