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Human Development Report 2004: Cultural Liberty in Today's Diverse World

Time (GMT +01) 00:00 23:59


Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Director of the HDR Office in New York
Jorge Quiroga, former President of Bolivia now Kozmetsky Centre of Excellence in Global Finance - St. Edward's University, Austin, Texas.
Johnny Grimond, Writer-at-Large The Economist
Pat Holden, Senior Social Development Advisor, Exclusion, Justice and Rights team - Policy Division of DFID.

Tony Worthington, MP

1. Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Director of the HDR Office in New York, provided an overview of the report, highlighting both the global prominence of the issues raised by it and the main arguments made in it.

2. Although conflicts over language, religion and ethnicity are not new, the rise of identity politics in almost every country is new - a consequence of more democracy, mass communication and globalisation. There are increasing possibilities for people to be assertive about demanding recognition and respect of their cultures. Furthermore, the report asserts that it is increasingly accepted that people can manage multiple cultural identities and speak many languages and that this must be recognised and respected by the societies and states in which they live. Part of this equation is the backlash against globalisation with its roots in a growing fear that national and minority values and ways of life are being increasingly undermined by the spread of people, goods and ideas across the world.

3. Difficult questions about cultural identity represent a challenge to all states, as almost no country is culturally homogeneous. Similarly, migration flows will be a future issue for many countries and it is widely accepted that immigrant policies can no longer demand assimilation without choice. The core argument of the report is that the only sustainable solution is a multicultural approach that embraces diversity. This goes beyond just individual tolerance, and requires state policy to recognise distinct cultural identities and introduce pluralist policies on, for example, language, political representation, religion, national holidays, as well as combating discrimination against minorities. Global markets need to recognise and support the value of cultural diversity and encourage the flow of ideas, goods and people but also address the asymmetries that threaten national cultures. Majoritarian democracies are not enough; there needs to be explicit provision for the minority voice.

4. There is no singular formula for how states or societies should manage these issues. The Report documents many of the ways in which countries have responded to the difficult challenge of cultural accommodation - through arrangements for political participation, religious freedom, pluralist policy for language, affirmative action for equal opportunities, for dealing with intolerant, extremist movements.

5. Sakiko Fukuda-Parr stressed that by advocating multiculturalism, the report is not isolating and differentiating communities. Multiculturalism is about sustaining multiple identities and building unity in diversity. It is not a defence of tradition at the expense of universal human rights. All cultures change and adapt; humanity does not advance when culture is stagnant. Cultural freedom is a simple but profoundly disturbing idea that challenges past practices and ideas that have become conventional wisdom.

6. The Report debunks a number of myths about diversity leading to conflict, failed development and democracy. These myths are dangerous and stand in the way of human freedoms and the stability necessary for peace and prosperity.

7. Sakiko Fukuda-Parr concluded by emphasising that cultural liberty will not just happen, any more than progress in health, education and women's rights do. It takes active measures by state and society and should therefore be a core concern of governments. Civilisations will not clash when state policies allow people to be who they are. The purpose of this Report is to show how it can be done.

8. Jorge Quiroga, former President of Bolivia and now at the Kozmetsky Centre of Excellence in Global Finance, St. Edward's University, Austin, Texas, congratulated Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and her team for the 2004 Human Development Report. He noted that this year's report is broadly applicable to all countries - developed as well as developing countries. He also noted that the Report reflects a move away from cultural finger-pointing to cultural diversity.

9. On the issue of indigenous peoples, he gave the example Bolivia that in 1992, on the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Spanish conquistadores, revised their constitution to recognise the rights of indigenous peoples, including the use of minority languages in schools. In countries with significant cultural diversity, such as the countries in Latin America, it is necessary to use asymmetrical or federal political systems to ensure that minorities are given a voice in the running of their countries. It is then possible, within these systems, to have constitutional remedies to conflict situations.

10. Migration is necessary for both developed and developing countries in terms of needing workers to fill gaps and also the level of remittances that developing countries receive from migrant workers. However, developed countries need to recognise that if they want workers they are getting people with cultural identities and trying to forcibly assimilate these workers will only lead to problems. In these circumstances, citizenship and the associated rights are an important protection for migrant workers.

11. Jorge Quiroga concluded with a suggestion that the indicators in the Human Development Report should be used to track progress in attaining the Millennium Development Goals. Also, it would be fitting to have the 2005 report focus on the MDGs as it will be five years after their creation and 10 years until the date that they should be achieved.

12. Johnny Grimond, Writer-at-Large for the Economist, commended the role Human Development Reports play in the international arena. He was concerned that the 2004 Report was based on wishful thinking and he questioned the concept of 'cultural liberty'. According to how the term is used in the Report, he believed the Report was saying that 'cultural liberty' means the freedom to adhere to our cultures without being told what to do. Furthermore, he said that the Report required people to accept all parts of another's culture even if we strongly disagree with it. Although there are disclaimers in the Report about not protecting tradition, he argued that the distinction between culture and tradition was not clear, and it appeared that if the authors agreed with something it was culture, otherwise it was tradition.

13. Johnny Grimond was concerned that the Report advocated positive discrimination or affirmative action. He said that this undermines the concept of universality and is open to abuse detrimental to the people it is meant to be helping.

14. One part of culture which is fundamental, and needs to be protected and respected, is language. Not only is it a means of communication in the present, it is always the way in which history and literature can be passed on to future generations.

15. Johnny Grimond concluded that he admired the Report for taking on this subject but feared that it may be used for protecting, or encouraging, bad policies and supporting cultural practices which are destructive.

16. Pat Holden, Senior Social Development Advisor in the Exclusion, Justice and Rights team in the Policy division of DFID, commended the report for addressing a topic that has been systematically ignored in development. Cultural liberty is even more relevant with the rise in issues concerning conflict and security.

17. The concept of culture is contentious and can be manipulated to meet a number of ends. Other concepts such as exclusion and rights focus on the issue of power and it is important to also discuss culture in terms of power. The developing world is nervous of any interference by donors on issues concerning culture which explains, to some extent, the current focus in development on poverty reduction. However, there are social and cultural issues that need to be addressed in development which is why it is so important these issues are raised by the HDR and openly discussed.


Main discussion points

" On the topic of language, a comment was made that languages die out when they are not economically viable and do not result in jobs. It was suggested that Bolivia is a good example of how to prevent this happening. In Bolivia, children can start school in their mother tongue and then move onto bilingual education with the official language of the country which ensures that children maintain their mother tongue whilst being educated in the official language, thereby increasing their career opportunities.

" On affirmative action, it was pointed out that there are many cases where this has positively changed entrenched practices. For example, the use of affirmative action in India to support the inclusion of all castes into the government has made a significant impact on the caste system as a whole.

" On culture vs. universal human rights, it was asked why, in light of the growing recognition of human rights and, as part of this, cultural rights, the report focused on 'cultural liberty' rather than 'cultural rights'. In answer to this, it was explained that the authors felt that 'cultural rights' as a concept is ill-defined and too narrow to include all the rights - economic, political, civil and social - that are embedded in the concept of cultural liberty. Another related issue was on how to respect the rights of the dominant culture whilst also protecting the rights of minority or multi-ethnic cultures. A suggested answer to this was that the rights of all peoples would be protected in the same way which is by using a human rights framework. These rights need to be adapted into the national context in such a way that ensures that there is equality of recognition and opportunity. Finally, it was suggested that the best way of looking at the link between culture and universal human rights is to think that culture gives way where human rights begin.

" On MDGs, concern was raised that there is no requirement for governments to monitor their achievement of attaining the MDGs against minority groups. In some countries, cases of HIV/Aids are more prevalent among minority groups. This can be due to identity based discrimination or because government policies are not culturally sensitive and, therefore, have not reached minority groups. A starting point to address this problem, it to have further analysis on why certain groups are not reaching the MDGs.


This event discussed the benefactors and social conflicts that have aroused from the spread of cultures across the globe.

Sakiko Fukuda-Parr provided an overview of the report, highlighting both the global prominence of the issues raised by it and the main arguments made in it.

The report weighed up globalisation and its byproducts, along with the ideal that one's heritage, language and culture should be respected and accepted as the modern way in societies across the world. But, also, a growing fear that national and minority values and ways of life are being undermined by the spread of people, goods and ideas across the world.

Grimond Room