Empowering N.G.O.-s for UN Convention for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage


Abu Dhabi, September 28th, 2009

On the second day of the five day conference, the discussions regarding approval of draft prepared for inclusion of NGO-s in the UN meetings was taken up. State party India requested a change to remove ambiguity about the actual role and stressed that clear funding should be mentioned for organizing workshop in less-represented regions. The secretary pointed out that this was a welcome suggestion only if modalities of finance could be worked out. Estonia came up with the suggestion that mere involvement with UNESCO convention in its regular meetings would not empower the NGO-s already engaged in the safeguarding of intangible culture. Instead, workshops should be organized for them where NGO-s can meet each other, discuss their methods, concerns and aspirations. Such interaction would definitely be more interesting and useful. Korea endorsed this idea and said that it would ensure wide spread reach of the primary objective. Central Africa came forward with the suggestion that state parties should take up the cause for promotion of the convention by translating it into local languages. It was also pointed out that these workshops should be organized at regional levels and held at countries different from UN head quarters.

4COM in progress

4COM in progress

People’s belief in the routine nature of life fosters the fallacy of everything being universal and in vogue. The highly educated people involved in ideas at international level sometimes take their concerns for granted. Kenya drew attention to the fact that technical knowledge required to interact with the UN secretariat was not with many NGO-s apart from lack of other resources and therefore it becomes necessary to support them. Italy agreed with the suggestion and remarked that such workshops should be organized in countries rich in tradition of safeguarding intangible heritage. India should help developing nations for participation in these. Once again attention was drawn to the fact that simple modern conveniences should not be taken for granted for making universal policies. South Africa said that the task of safeguarding the heritage was naturally done by the traditional communities. Despite proficiency in their task they lacked the structure of a modern organization. The level of dedication and understanding with which they perform can rarely be achieved by a structured NGO. Still, these practitioners and cultural leaders should be granted the opportunity to understand the concerns of UN. However, instead of academics discussing the issues in a theoretical manner, actual cultural practitioners should exchange their experiences. In Africa there should be five such workshops, one for each of the regions, where grass-root workers of the region make an exchange which is productive and relevant. Peru endorsed this suggestion stating that region wide workshops were better equipped to reach out to local NGO-s and culture practitioners. Croatia thanked the hosts U.A.E. and the UN and agreed with the suggestions.

Mexico, carrying the discussion forward, proposed that first a main conference should be held where issues that were germane to visibility and safeguarding cultural heritage be explained so that discussions at regional conferences would retain continuity and similarity. It was also pointed out that this issue is of great interest to everyone. Agreeing with Kenya, Belarus said that in certain countries the NGO-s have no motivation, apart from little technical skill and money, to seek legal status. Kenya, at this, intervened to agree with Zimbabwe and Mexico and added that resource persons for these conferences / workshops should be drawn from those countries only which have accepted the 2003 convention and follow it in true spirit.

In truth, the ideologue and grass-root worker are so far apart that mediators are required to establish communication between the two. Often, the thought gets modified or deformed. One state party pointed out that the legal / technical language was often far beyond the understanding of simple culture practitioner. Even the literate person available to such a practitioner lacked the technical acumen to supply the information sought. It was suggested that questionnaire or forms should be made simpler to ensure better participation. Involvement of regional experts for capacity building activities would ensure superior results.

Many state parties expressed concern at the way local culture is being eroded. Panama said that the excessive use of technology was fast removing traditional practices and hindered the process of safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage as well as its practice. Technology, as they say, is double-edged sword. The time it saves in labour is used up in enhanced routine activities – cell-phone, internet, television, commuting. The real problem behind neglect of traditional practices is not merely a change in people’s attitude but the loss of free time and hurried pace of life. People still wish to stay connected to such practices but no longer have time for its practice or appreciation. Their efforts to keep such things current pose an added threat, as being pressed for time they abridge the practices to retain merely the form while shunning the real essence.

Brazil gave a measured input summing up the existing situation and stressing upon the need to hear, understand and encourage the community NGO-s who are closest to traditional practitioners of culture. Where formal NGO-s are yet to exist, the academic or cultural bodies of experts created by government should be utilized for safeguarding intangible practices.

Secretary of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage informed that venue for workshops are yet to be finalized and state members can send their proposals soon. The draft 4COM 10 at this juncture reads:

The Secretariat of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage shall organize workshops for NGO-s in unrepresented regions aimed at facilitating the contribution of NGO-s from developing countries, in accordance with Operational Directives and to report to the committee at its fifth session on the result of these workshops.

With this approval the pathway for active participation of grass-root workers and community practitioners in gatherings designed to further the cause of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage has been established. This spells a new era in the area of cultural preservation.

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