Special thematic debate of the UN General Assembly
Culture and sustainable development in the post 2015 development agenda
Panel on the power of culture for poverty eradication
and sustainable development
Statement by Ms. Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights
Mr President, Honourable ministers, Excellences, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour for me to participate in this panel.
The Post 2015 agenda I believe provides a not-to-be missed opportunity to shift from conceiving of, planning for and implementing development in disconnected siloes to a more holistic approach bringing together the environmental, economic and social dimensions of development in a single embrace. Culture not only sits at the cross-roads of these dimensions, as the UNESCO Director general said; it is the threads interlinking these dimensions and knitting our lives together which can facilitate or block ownership of development agendas; make them successful or fail.
The role of culture for sustainable development is thus absolutely crucial.
- As our world gets faster, more globalized and technological, the Post 2015 agenda setting is an opportunity to discuss where we’re heading: what kind of progress we want, and what progress actually means. We must continue, deepen and expand the discussion about our common humanity and our equally common future which can only be fruitful if dialogue and exchange are rooted in cultural diversity and bring together various world visions. We must all help to address the challenges before us, with our richly diverse knowledge and savoir-faire. No one area of the world or community holds the truth or all the answers and we must guard against the unworkable “one-size-fits-all” models of development.
- Culture, we must recognize, is a resource for development, and especially for maintaining and designing sustainable development models. We should proactively benefit from local experiences rooted in traditional knowledge of harmony with nature. Human rights and development strategies can only be implemented within specific local cultural and socioeconomic frameworks. They have to be realized within, and are thus contingent upon, the factors and dynamics operative on the ground, including local knowledge and practices, specific cultural traditions, values and norms.
- It is important to take into consideration the ability of people to “aspire”. This important cultural capability needs to be supported and developed, especially among the marginalized and vulnerable. Aspirations embody people’s conceptions of what makes up a life with dignity – dignity is the core of human rights and must be the goal of all development. Aspirations are never a mere individual exercise: they are informed by, and in turn inform, communities of shared cultural values. They draw upon cultural heritage, including accumulated scientific knowledge. New knowledge and innovations expand available options and strengthen people’s capacity to envisage a better future; for which access to specific technologies may sometimes be pivotal.
Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
As Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, let me stress how culture, and cultural rights, can contribute to sustainable development.
I understand cultural rights as bearing two essential and interdependent dimensions, one grounded in the notion of free creativity, and the second based on the right of people to access cultural heritage, their own as well as that of others, (in addition to new thinking and developments), in order to pursue their own development and identification processes.
Both dimensions are pivotal to successfully developing policies that are sustainable and inclusive. They demand the protection of the right of people to maintain, enjoy and develop their cultural heritage. Culture being a living and dynamic process, they also require an assurance of the conditions necessary for everyone to continuously engage in critical thinking about themselves and the world they inhabit, and to have the opportunity and wherewithal to interrogate, investigate and contribute new knowledge with ideas, expressions and innovative applications, regardless of frontiers.
Just as human rights standards constantly evolve, cultural beliefs and understandings, normative rules and values, as well as practices are continuously created, contested and (re)interpreted. In transforming their culture(s) by adopting new ideas and modes of operation, concerned people often continue to draw upon the moral and spiritual resources within their own traditions. Hence cultural rights and cultural heritage are not about the past; they are very much about the present and pathways to the future.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We should not pursue models of development that disrupt the cultural life of entire communities, destroy their cultural heritage and landscape, and deprive them of necessary resources, including in terms of savoir-faire and knowledge, to overcome challenges to build sustainable futures. Such policies disempower communities and exclude them from development processes.
Unless culture and cultural rights are fully taken into consideration in the post 2015 agenda, we will not achieve our goals. In this regards, it is important to acknowledge that:
- Cultural diversity exists not only between communities but also within each community.
- Cultural rights must be understood as also relating to who in the community holds the power to define its collective identity and to identify its cultural heritage. The reality of intra-community diversity makes it imperative to ensure that all voices within a community, including those representing the interests, desires and perspectives of specific groups, are heard, without discrimination. Think, for example about often marginalised groups such as women or migrants. Culture is not an actor in itself (people are), and we should not lose sight of the strong relations between power and culture.
- Culture is a permanent site of exchange and recognition, but also contestation which enables communities to continuously evolve, to surmount challenges, and to move towards greater inclusion of all people. For me, social cohesion and inclusion implies participation, i.e. the right of all persons to have access to, participate in and contribute to all aspects of cultural life. Women, for example, must be recognized as, and supported to be, equal spokespersons vested with the authority to determine which of the community’s traditions are to be respected, protected and transmitted to future generations. Youngsters must be given the space to innovate and contribute to continuously developing cultures, linked to the past and reaching for the future.
- Our wealth relies on our cultural diversity, and on the public and civic spaces we create for multi-dimensional exchanges, expressions and interactions between us. This is relevant for inter as well as intra-community relationships.
- In many societies, peace, social cohesion and inclusion depend on the level of understanding and reconciliation achieved between people and communities. In two recent reports, I have stressed the importance of ensuring a multi-perspective approach in history teaching and memorialization processes in divided societies. It is important to open spaces to a variety of narratives regarding the past and representations of that past, so as to ensure a better understanding of contemporary challenges of exclusion and violence.
To conclude Ladies and gentlemen,
With the global challenges facing us, we realize that we have a common destiny, and that we must address the challenges by combining all our strengths, our creativity and eventually our dreams. Culture and cultural rights, let me stress, are not luxuries; they are absolute necessities. Cultural expressions are how we express our very humanity; culture helps us resist and overcome adversities & trauma, as we so eloquently heard regarding Haiti; it embodies our joy and our fears and hopes for the future. Therefore, while we ask how culture can help eradicate poverty & promote sustainable development, it is essential that we also ask how the Post 2015 development agenda can contribute to developing culture as the symbolic diversified manifestations of our common but complex humanity. This requires specific targets to promote cultural rights and indicators to assess (i) inclusiveness in planning and implementation; (ii) the ability of all to access, participate in, and contribute to cultural life as intrinsically joined to development.
I thank you for your attention.
See A/HRC/20/26, Report on the right to enjoy the benefits of science and its applications.
The definition of cultural rights used for the purpose of my mandate is the following: Cultural rights protect the rights for each person, individually and in community with others, as well as groups of people, to develop and express their humanity, their world view and the meanings they give to their existence and their development through, inter alia, values, beliefs, convictions, languages, knowledge and the arts, institutions and ways of life. They also protect access to cultural heritage and resources that allow such identification and development processes to take place. See A/HRC/14/36.