9 November 2012
The United Nations Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Ms. Farida Shaheed, wishes to thank the government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines for inviting her to conduct a country mission from 5 to 9 November 2012. This is the first ever visit conducted by a Special Rapporteur to the country.
Ms. Shaheed visited Kingstown, Sandy Bay and Union Island. She met with Government officials and statutory bodies working in the areas of culture and tourism, education, legal affairs and central planning. She also met with artists, teachers, historians, people involved in organizing cultural events and festivals, as well as representatives from civil society. In addition, she visited several schools and radio stations. Thorough discussions were held with all interlocutors on the successes and challenges of implementing cultural rights, particularly with regards to history, cultural heritage and tourism. The Special Rapporteur expresses her gratitude to all those who have given her the benefit of their time and expertise.
Over the last decade, commendable efforts have been made in spite of resource constraints, to ensure better recognition of the country’s diverse cultural heritage. According to all interlocutors the Special Rapporteur met with,, the Government’s initiatives as well as public statements made at the highest level of the State have created a climate favourable to cultural diversity. The Special Rapporteur was impressed by the public desire for, and commitment to retrieving and reviving parts of their cultural heritage, including history.
The government has been generally supportive of the work undertaken by various organizations such as the Indian Heritage Foundation and the Garifuna Heritage Foundation. Concrete steps have been taken such as proclaiming Joseph Chatoyer, the Paramount Chief of the indigenous peoples, as national hero, and recognizing the Indian Arrival Day. The Special Rapporteur also welcomes the official recognition of the Rastafarian religion.
There is a strong demand amongst the Garifuna people and Caribs to research, access and revive their own history and culture, in particular language, music and heritage. The Special Rapporteur welcomes the cultural retrieval programme launched by the Government as well as the work undertaken by the Garifuna Heritage Foundation despite limited resources. In this connection, it is important that the Government addresses the issue of access to relevant archives located in countries such as the United Kingdom and France. Also, the Special Rapporteur would like to call on the Government to consider the importance of the Balliceaux Island for the Garifuna people and to ensure that their relation to this Island as a site of remembrance is respected and maintained.
The issue of history has been central in all discussions. A main concern is that textbooks continue to have a European perspective and do not sufficiently reflect the specific history of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. History teachers have few opportunities to present another version of history and the exams developed by the Caribbean Examination Council for secondary level provide limited space to local histories. While it is impractical to develop textbooks exclusively for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, it is important to find ways to integrate local histories and literature into the school curriculum, including through the use of information and communication technologies.
The revival of the National Heritage Trust is welcomed. The Special Rapporteur recommends that procedures be established to ensure that the Trust is systematically consulted prior to development projects likely to impact on cultural heritage. For example, giving a seat to the Trust on the Planning Board may be one important mechanism to consider. More generally, given the fact that important cultural heritage is still being discovered in the country, the Special Rapporteur encourages the Government to require cultural impact assessments prior to major private or public development projects. The Special Rapporteur appreciates the fact that, as stated by the government, all beaches in the country are public; however, she recommends that specific legislation be passed making it obligatory for all private proprietors to provide a thoroughfare for public access to beaches.
The Special Rapporteur notes that several projects are under discussion, in particular the Alba House, a training and development space for culture, which would also host civil society organizations working in the field of culture and cultural rights. In addition, the Government’s plan to establish a multi-functional cultural center in Kingstown, which would host exhibitions and enable artists to perform and practice and therefore respond to the expressed desire of relevant actors. She hopes that financial resources can be mobilized for the creation of this center, as well as for the reactivated National Cultural Foundation, which is an important institution for strengthening artistic life and expressions in the country.
The Government is currently finalizing its new cultural policy, through a process which includes consultation with various stakeholders. The Special Rapporteur notes however that very few of the interlocutors she met were aware of the planned consultations. She stresses that stakeholders need to be informed sufficiently in advance with proper documentation so as to ensure meaningful input and broad ownership of the policy. In addition, the Special Rapporteur believes that there is a need to ensure coherence between cultural and tourism policies, through specific procedure or mechanism.
There are numerous challenges in identifying, protecting and safeguarding cultural heritage of all groups in the country, as well as making sure that heritage remains part of a vibrant cultural life in a globalizing world. It is important to ensure that all communities, such as the Rastafarians, are able to pursue their cultural and religious life without hindrance and stigmatization, and that they receive equal consideration and support from the State.
General support to numerous festivals throughout the year allows for show-casing cultural expressions. There is a need to ensure that all the different Islands and groups have equal opportunities to host and participate in events.
The Special Rapporteur also notes that small groups such as the Maroons on Union Islands, who strive to maintain their particular traditions, do not seem to receive sufficient attention and support. These traditions need to be recognized and documented. More generally, the Special Rapporteur encourages the Government and all actors to seek innovative ways of using cultural resources in a contemporary way. The engagement of youth with cultural heritage should be catalyzed, including through interactions with the elders. Interesting initiatives have been taken in this regard.; however they remain ad hoc and depend upon the commitment of individuals. It is important to gather the various experiences and share these across the different sectors to enable replication and sustainability of good practices.
The Special Rapporteur believes that currently the country seems to be at an important juncture in its history, retrieving the past to go forward, on its way to valuing diversity and consolidating cultural rights for all.