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Defending Joris de Bres

New Zealand National Commission For UNESCO
Media Release 9 December 2002


Defending Joris de Bres


The New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO has defended the speech given given by Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres at a dawn ceremony to greet the United Nations Day for Cultural Heritage on December 4.

UNESCO NZ Chair, the Hon Margaret Austin said it was appropriate to challenge people to think about this country’s record in preserving its cultural heritage as that is the purpose of the Day, and Year, for Cultural Heritage

She says when briefing the Commissioner, UNESCO told him that the United Nations proclamation of 2002 as the Year for Cultural Heritage followed on from a resolution adopted by UNESCO’s General Conference last year in response to the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

“As the Director-General of UNESCO himself has pointed out Afghanistan is not the only site of cultural vandalism. Significantly, the Year aimed to raise awareness throughout the world of the importance of preserving cultural heritage, both the tangible heritage of monuments, such as the Buddhas, and the intangible heritage of traditions and cultural practices.

“Thus we asked the Commissioner, who has a background in conservation issues, to link the global to the local. His statement that the destruction of the Buddhas challenges us to think of our own country and to examine our own record is precisely the challenge issued to all members of the United Nations. We applaud the Commissioner’s leadership in raising these important issues but regret the polarisation of views that the reporting of the speech has engendered.

Mrs Austin said one important theme of the Year has been the potential for cultural heritage to act as a factor of national reconciliation.

“From Croatia to Cambodia, cultural heritage is providing people with the marks of a common past and the foundations for a shared future. In postcolonial countries, such as New Zealand, all peoples, whether descendants of the colonisers, colonised or both, have to come to terms with their shared history and move forward. We are on that journey in New Zealand now. It is through dialogue such as that initiated by the Race Relations Commissioner that the journey will be progressed. UNESCO, as a United Nations agency, is charged with encouraging such dialogue,” Mrs Austin said.

“Ultimately cultural heritage is about the transmission of culture to future generations. What cultural knowledge do we want to pass on to our children? As Joris de Bres said, “it makes you think”. We hope the wide coverage given to this speech has indeed made people think.”


For further information, please contact Susan Isaacs:
Culture Officer, New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO
TEL: (04) 4735525 w or 4759174 (a/h)

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