Vive Le Canada

U.S. out in cold in UNESCO diversity pact
Date: Friday, October 21 2005

Thursday, October 20, 2005 Last updated 1:25 p.m. PT

U.S. out in cold in UNESCO diversity pact


PARIS -- UNESCO's member nations voted overwhelmingly Thursday to approve a pact on protecting cultural diversity after a bitter debate left the United States isolated in opposition to what it sees as a threat to sales of American movies and music.

The convention - championed by the European Union and Canada - aims to promote ethnic traditions and minority languages and to protect those local cultures from the negative effects of globalization, UNESCO said.

The United States argued the convention could be used to erect trade barriers against cultural exports such as films and pop music as well as indirectly curtail free speech.

Calling the text "deeply flawed," the U.S. delegation proposed 28 amendments to the draft, but all were rejected. Delegates voted 148-2 to approve the pact. The United States and Israel opposed it and four nations abstained.

U.S. Ambassador Louise Oliver told the meeting the text was "too open to misinterpretation and too prone to abuse for us to support."

The dispute left the United States isolated just two years after it rejoined the U.N. cultural agency following a 19-year absence over wide-ranging disagreements with UNESCO.

Oliver called the outcome "extraordinarily disappointing" and said it could have lasting consequences on relations between the U.S. government and UNESCO, although she stopped short of threatening a new withdrawal.

"I would say that we're not currently considering any such possibilities, but obviously this process is going to raise some questions that will have to be discussed when I get back to Washington," she said in an interview.

UNESCO's biannual general conference did reach consensus agreements for a declaration on bioethics and a convention against doping in sports, but U.S. officials said other members weren't willing to compromise on the cultural diversity pact.

"This convention is different. It has been handled differently. It does not have the process of dialogue and openness and transparency that the others have had," Oliver told The Associated Press.

Britain, speaking on behalf of the EU because it holds the rotating presidency of the 25-nation bloc, said Monday that there had been ample debate on the convention and urged UNESCO members to approve the text without changes.

Timothy Craddock, the British ambassador to UNESCO, hailed the text's passage Thursday.

"With this convention, cultural diversity, currently under threat particularly in the poorest countries, will become a right we all share," he said. "Just as much as we shall all share the duty to preserve it."

The convention needs to be ratified separately by 30 member states.

[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on October 24, 2005]


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