Cablegate: Unesco - First Intergovernmental Meeting of Intangible

Lucia A Keegan 11/28/2006 10:10:12 AM From DB/Inbox: Lucia A Keegan






DE RUEHFR #7553/01 3320622
R 280622Z NOV 06






E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: PARIS 07461

1. (U) Begin Summary. The first meeting of the Inter-Governmental
Committee (IGC) for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural
Heritage was held in Algiers November 18-19, 2006. The UNESCO D-G
laid out a detailed timetable of proposed IGC and General Assembly
meetings over the next two years that will likely set the pace for
upcoming meetings. The IGC had a preliminary exchange of views on
key criteria and other issues that will ultimately govern the
process of determining which cultural expressions are inscribed on
the "Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of
Humanity." China will host an extraordinary session of the IGC in
Beijing (23-27 May 2007) and Japan will host the IGC's second
regular session in early September 2007 (date still uncertain).
Reasons for concern about an incipient North-South political divide
have begun to appear early within the Committee. China, India, and
Japan have already begun to assert prominent roles in shaping the
debate on key aspects of how the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH)
Convention is to be implemented. The U.S. observer delegation was
well-received by all and was one of a number of other UNESCO Member
States not Parties to the Convention that sent observer delegations
to this meeting. There was wide recognition by many of the
important role that the Smithsonian Institution and other U.S.
cultural agencies are already playing in supporting and promoting
intangible cultural heritage not only within the United States but
also in other countries as well. End Summary.

2. (U) In the wake of having reached its full complement of 24
members (see reftel), the Committee held its first meeting in
Algiers on November 18-19, 2006. The U.S. Observer Delegation
consisted of U.S. Mission to UNESCO Legal Adviser Michael Peay and
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Office of International
Relations Attorney-Adviser Michael Shapiro. The meeting was chaired
by Algerian Minister of Culture, Mme Khalida Toumi. Committee
representation was an interesting mix of both technical experts and
professional diplomats, each group quite vocal, which resulted in a
robust, analytical debate on most issues. Non-States Party
observer delegations (such as the U.S. delegation) were permitted to
speak, upon request, without objection by States Parties, though
such interventions were very few. However, during the two days of
discussions, it became increasingly clear that the Asian-Pacific
States on the Committee (led by India and China) had caucused
beforehand and had come prepared to use their financial muscle and
political solidarity to play a dominant role in shaping the early
implementation of the Convention. By the close of the conference,
there was considerable grumbling, particularly among European
States, that the Asian-Pacific assertiveness and their positions on
important substantive issues had driven an incipient North-South
wedge between Committee members. A recurring theme in Asian-Pacific
States' interventions was a sense of grievance or disappointment
about some aspects of the World Heritage Committee process and the
need to avoid repeating that experience on this Committee.

3. (U) Key Agenda Items Addressed at Meeting. Given the brevity of
only two working days, the Committee moved with relative efficiency
to address all items on its agenda, with a general understanding
that time would permit only a preliminary exchange of views on some
agenda items. The key items addressed were: adoption of the
Committee's Rules of Procedure; implementation operational
guidelines; criteria for inscription on the "Representative List";
and advisory assistance to the Committee.

4. (U) Rules of Procedure. The Committee gave in-depth
consideration to the draft Rules of Procedure. The UNESCO Legal
Adviser acknowledged that the draft Rules of Procedure which the
secretariat had prepared for the IGC were virtually identical to

those used by the World Heritage Committee (WHC) (established under
the UNESCO 1972 Convention). However, he informed the Committee
that it need not "slavishly adhere" to the WHC rules. In line with
that guidance, the Committee considered a number of proposed
amendments to the draft rules, some of which were adopted. Among
the most important amendments adopted were those relating to Rule 20
(rules applicable to consultative bodies), Rules 40 and 41 (secret
ballots on IGC decisions), and Rule 43 (working languages).
However, a proposal to amend the draft rules to change the voting
requirement from a simple majority to a two-thirds majority
(mirroring the WHC) failed to attract support. At the close of the
debate on this item, the Asian-Pacific group had gotten most of the
changes to the rules that it had sought.

5. (U) Implementation Operational Guidelines. The
secretariat-drafted outline that was proposed as a basis for the

preparation of the Committee's Operational Directives for
implementation of the Convention were found to be wanting by a
number of IGC members and is to be revised in the light of the views
expressed about it. The outline became controversial and could not
be adopted, because, in effect, it embodies contentious
implementation issues that had not yet been taken up under separate
agenda items.

6. (U) Criteria for Inscription on the Representative List. The
secretariat announced at the outset that, in view of the technical

expertise needed to evaluate certain ICH expressions, it will
probably be necessary to convene an experts meeting to assist the
committee in drawing up the inscription criteria. (Note: in this
regard, India intervened twice to note for the record that it is
prepared to host such an experts meeting; India lamented the fact
that no Indian experts had known about or participated in previous
experts' meetings). The Committee considered a draft set of 10
(ten) criteria. There was strong Committee resistance (led by
India's UNESCO Ambassador Mukherjee) to the secretariat's operating
assumption that all ten criteria should be satisfied for inscription
on the List. A recurrent theme from a number of delegations
representing a variety of regions was that the inscription criteria
should not be too numerous and should be sufficiently "flexible" to
enable inscription. In view of time constraints and the divergent
views that emerged regarding the content and quantity of inscription
criteria, it was agreed that Committee Members and other States
Parties to the Convention should submit their written views on the
criteria by no later than 31 January 2007. Observer States not
party to the Convention (e.g., the U.S. and others) were informed
that the submission of written views is limited to just States
Parties to the Convention. Among "criteria" issues most likely to
be most in contention are: (i) number of criteria to be satisfied;
(ii) rigidity vs. flexibility of criteria; inclusion, substitution,
or elimination of contentious terms such as "roots", "repetition",
and "free, prior, and informed consent"; (iii) duration of listing;
(iv) de-listing; and (v) whether the criteria for the two lists
("Representative" and "Needing Urgent Safeguarding") will be

7. (U) Advisory Bodies. Another highly contentious discussion
ensued over the issue of advisory organizations, including their
accreditation, and how to ensure their regional representativeness
and comprehensiveness from a technical standpoint. India
energetically led the charge in urging the Committee to avoid the
experience of the World Heritage Committee that was limited to just
two advisory bodies that were "overworked and understaffed." What
should the IGC do if it disagrees with a recommendation from an
advisory body was also raised by India. There was strong Chinese
and other opposition (including Brazil and France to a proposed
"umbrella advisory body" that would be composed of "representatives
of accredited NGOs and of a limited number of private persons with
widely recognized competence in the field of ICH." As proposed by
the secretariat, the umbrella body would have the power to: monitor
implementation of the Convention; recommend safeguarding measures;
examine reports from States; review and recommend nominations for
inscription on the two lists (noted above); and exercise other
unspecified powers. As a parting shot on this issue, India took the
floor to note that, in the World Heritage Committee context, (quote)
"when Western NGOs seek to collaborate with NGOs from the South, it
often does not work and tends to lead to sharp North/South divisions
and the impression that the North is telling the South what to do"
(end quote). This statement resonated poorly with European and some
other delegates and, at the end of the day, gave the meeting a sour

8. (U) The debate on advisory bodies ended with the adoption of a
resolution in which the Committee: (a) noted that it "wishes to be
assisted by practitioners of ICH, NGO experts, centers of expertise
with recognized competency in the field of ICH"; (b) decided to
continue consideration of whether to establish an "umbrella advisory
body;" (c) requested the D-G to submit a proposal on criteria for
accreditation of competent NGOs; and (d) invited Committee members
and other States Parties to the ICH Convention to submit suggestions
and proposals on these matters before 31 January 2007.

9. (U) Venues/Timelines for next meetings. At this meeting, the IGC
began to give effect to the recommended timetable of meetings that
was suggested by the UNESCO D-G in the opening plenary session. It
was decided that China will host an extra-ordinary session of the
IGC in Beijing, 23-27 May 2007, and that Japan would host the next
regular IGC session in early September (date to be determined).
Should there be a need for an experts' meeting before or after
either of those two IGC meetings, it is a virtual certainty that the
IGC will approve India's proposal to host such a meeting. Pursuant
to the D-G's timetable, the first inscription of entries on the
Representative List should take place during the Committee's autumn
2008 third regular meeting. To meet that goal, the Committee
members (half of whom will be preparing to leave the Committee by
that date) will have to find a higher level of consensus on key
issues, or begin resorting to a series of contentious votes to
resolve those issues. Within this timetable, the D-G specifically
noted the importance of the IGC approving operational directives,
guidelines for accreditation of NGOs, and guidelines for financial
assistance for submission to the 2007 General Assembly.

10. (SBU) Begin Comment: The Algiers meeting provoked unmistakable
North vs. South tensions within the IGC's start-up process. Whether
this proves to be temporary and largely a function of the
personalities currently leading the Asian-Pacific group on the
Committee or becomes an enduring feature of the Committee's work
remains to be seen. What seems clear at the moment is that a sour
political overtone has been injected into the mix that could deepen
further during the next several meetings - to be hosted by Asian
countries. The Group I (European) countries and most Latin
countries, on the other hand, have taken a less strident position
and seem to be working toward a balance in inter-regional control
over the implementation of this Convention. A number of countries
mentioned, with admiration, to U.S. observer delegation reps the
excellent ICH work being done by the Smithsonian Institution and
other U.S. cultural agencies, in particular, and U.S. society, in
general. Frequently, this observation was matched with a follow-on
comment that it would be great if the U.S. could join the Convention
and play an even greater role from the inside. U.S. observer
delegation reps were frequently asked whether the U.S. will join the
Convention. The routine response given was that we could not predict
what future position the U.S. will take but that we are obtaining
firsthand information about the Convention processes as part of
giving the Convention an overall look.

11. (U) (Comment continued) Ironically, China and Japan (along with
France, Belgium, Brazil, Nigeria, and Algeria) are among the 12
States on the Committee selected by lot to serve only two (rather
than four years, ending in June 2008. They will likely attempt to
exert their maximum influence for the remaining time of their
tenure. This should be coupled with the fact that some Committee
members seem intent on ensuring that the Intangible Cultural
Heritage Convention will give to the "South" the world-renowned
cultural heritage listings that the World Heritage Convention has
already given to the "North." In the ICH context, however, the
South will definitely need the North's practical and material
assistance to achieve their goals under this Convention. Group I
(largely Western European) countries will need to decide (sooner
rather than later) whether they are willing to cede control over
this convention entirely to the Asia-Pacific (or more generally
"southern") countries, or whether they are prepared to take a more
assertive role as insiders. The U.S. will also need to assess its
current position as a curious observer outside the Convention's
framework, in the face of repeated questions from other delegations
as to whether the U.S. is prepared to formally come within the
Convention regime. End Comment.

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