UNESCO intergovernmental session II, First Day: Monday, January 31, 2005

Submitted by Sasha Costanza-Chock on January 31, 2005.English

Summary: On the first day of the intergovernmental meeting on the proposed UNESCO convention on cultural diversity, the entire morning was taken up by a discussion of process. In the afternoon, delegates spent several hours discussing various versions of the title and the first article of the convention, which deals with its formal objectives. No clear consensus emerged on either point, primarily due to the US delegation's insistence on removal of each mention of the term 'protect,' which they claim might open the door to trade protectionism but most other countries feel is important to include in the context of the purpose of the proposed convention. At the end of the day, the discussion on the title and objectives was sent to an ad-hoc working group to meet in the evening and report back to the plenary in the morning. It was a slow start and will have to pick up if the intergovernmental meeting is going to produce a new draft in two weeks.

Blow by blow:

The delegates assembled on the first day in the UNESCO room II, with the president of the meeting and the secretariat seated on a raised platform at the head of the room, the rows of government delegates in front of them, and in the back a few rows of NGOs on one side and Press on the other. The room was packed full and not everyone found seats; an overflow room downstairs apparently shows the proceedings on a TV.

The president (chair) of the meeting made the usual introductory comments about working together in the spirit of cooperation and consensus, and summarized the work that has been done so far on the convention and the work in front of the plenary during this intergovernmental meeting. The chair indicated that in order for the convention to make it to the general conference in the fall, the draft text would have to be ready by March 3rd. Also, formally, this meeting is the extension of the previous intergovernmental meeting, so the chair and rules will remain the same. The working method is as therefore as follows:

If necessary, there can be votes, but the plenary will try to reach 'rough consensus.' When needed, disagreements will be sent to ad hoc groups that will boil down contention to the key problems, then report to the president and plenary. Any state, or supposedly, observer, can attend the ad hoc group meetings. Plenary discussion and decisions will be sent to the drafting group. The drafting group will NOT meet during the plenary, nor will there be other concurrent meetings, since delegations are of unequal size and this would be unfair to smaller delegations.

Once the floor was opened, the discussion first centered on the work of the drafting group, which during December took the previous draft of the convention text and tried to incorporate and synthesize the comments of the governments into a revised working text that is basically a list of options for each article and clause of the draft convention. I say comments of the governments, because NGO comments have barely been mentioned, other than an explicit mention of NGO comments on article 11, which is the article that deals with the role of civil society. Otherwise, very little note has been made of NGO comments. Also interesting is that there is no indication of which governments proposed or supported the various options; there's only a written summary of the 'general sense' of the discussion on each article that took place within the drafting group (apparently this nontransparency was contentious during the drafting group meetings, with some governments arguing for full disclosure, but that proposal was shut down).

After spending most of the morning in a discussion on process, the plenary began to discuss the title of the convention and the first clauses of article 1, the objectives.

For the most part, there was support for the term 'artistic contents and cultural expressions,' as well as for the term 'promote' diversity. There was a drawn out fight, however, over the inclusion of the term 'protect.' Despite support from the vast majority of delegates to include the term, the United States repeatedly (about 4-5 times) raised objections to the use of 'protect' on the grounds that it would be used to justify trade protectionism. Japan and a few others supported this position, but most replied that 'protect' is being used here in the sense common to UNESCO, as in protect cultural heritage sites, not in the sense of trade protection. (No one made the argument that protection of local cultural industries might in some cases be a valid and necessary strategy to foster their growth).

As it became clear that the consensus was to keep the term protect, the US began arguing that the term should be put in brackets for later discussion, since there was no consensus. As the discussion went in circles for most of the day on the title and the first two clauses of the first article, dealing with objectives of the convention, the president pushed this discussion to a working group to meet in the evening and report back to plenary in the morning.

The first NGO meeting

After lunch, the first NGO meeting took place in room 8 downstairs. Only about 15 NGOs were present for the first meeting. Most were present during the first intergovernmental. The INCD and the Coalitions for Cultural Diversity are the most active here. The meeting discussed the text of an 'open letter from NGOs' to be presented to the President and the Plenary. The letter basically expresses support for the process, cautions the governments not to get bogged down, calls for a strong agreement that will be equal to the trade agreements, and emphasizes the need to support developing country cultural industries.

In general, the president is a poor facilitator, not able to keep things moving along and then making sudden decisions that provoke backlash from the delegates.

At the end of the day, there was an ad hoc working group created, charged with discussing the title and the objectives and reporting back to plenary in the morning. On the agenda for tomorrow: principles, scope of the convention, and definitions.