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Swiss favour Unesco cultural diversity plan

Unesco helped to save the Abu Simbel monument in Egypt

(Keystone Archive)

Switzerland will be strongly supporting the cause of protecting cultural diversity and freedom of expression at the 33rd Unesco General Conference.

The Swiss ambassador to Unesco, Ernst Iten, also told swissinfo that the organisation needs to continue its streamlining process to make it more effective in the future.

The conference, which takes place at Unesco's headquarters in Paris from October 3-21, is to focus on education, development and science. Specific issues to be discussed are cultural diversity, doping in sport and bioethics.

Iten said Switzerland's main goal is to see the adoption of the preliminary draft of the Convention on the Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions.

"The reason is that Switzerland is a renowned multicultural country and cultural diversity forms part of our self-understanding," Iten told swissinfo.

"This principle is even anchored in Switzerland's constitution and our government has the duty to work for its respect and application."

Tsunami warning system

Switzerland will also be supporting the establishment of a global tsunami-warning system, the Education for All programme and a draft declaration on bioethics.

Unesco celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, with Switzerland contributing to its work since joining in 1949.

Iten pointed to the Swiss successes of starting Unesco's system of associated schools in 1952, the work of the Geneva-based International Bureau of Education since 1969, Swiss efforts to save the ancient city of Sana'a in Yemen, and its more recent role in developing education through local radio and the internet.

Unesco's most visible achievements have been in the field of preserving cultural heritage, most notably the last-ditch operation to save the Abu Simbel monument in Egypt, according to Iten.

"What the public really sees is Unesco's cultural presence. This is the area that has brought Unesco to the front pages of many newspapers," he said.

Resources

But he believes the organisation needs to lose weight if it is to keep up with fresh challenges ahead, particularly in the field of education. He also said it tried at times to take on too much without having the necessary human or financial resources to carry out projects effectively.

"The education sector was very important to Unesco at the beginning, but lost a bit of impact later on," he said. "But in recent years education has regained its importance so that now it is the priority for Unesco.

"Unesco's basic values are still valid, but reforms have to take place to follow the changes in our world. It is vital that Unesco continues to streamline its programmes [in order to] enhance its effectiveness."

swissinfo, Matthew Allen

Key facts

The 33rd general conference of Unesco takes place in Paris from October 3 to 21.
Some 2,000 delegates from 191 member states will attend the meeting.
Unesco is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

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In brief

Three projects will dominate proceedings at Unesco's 33rd General Conference: The Convention for the protection of the diversity of cultural content and artistic expression, the international convention against doping in sport and the declaration on universal norms in bioethics.

While there is broad agreement on the two latter texts, the question of the protection of cultural diversity is expected to ignite some controversy.

The text, which allows states to subsidise cultural products, cushioning them from normal commercial forces, has been criticised by the United States, which complains that it encourages protectionism.

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