Topic: Cultural Reconstruction in Post-Conflict Regions
Delegate: Jessica Fong
EAST BRUNSWICK HIGH SCHOOL
Marcus Garvey once said, “a people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots” (“Culture Quotes”). Culture is the defining aspect of a person, a group, and an entire nation. It marks stories that have lasted through time and holds countless mysteries for the future. Yet, today culture is often seen as a topic of little importance, particularly after conflict. People generally fail to acknowledge the significance of cultural reconstruction in post conflict regions. The Republic of Angola recognizes the importance of culture on a nation, and hopes to help conflicted regions reconstruct and preserve this vital aspect.
Despite its vital role in identifying and unifying a country, culture is often overlooked as a less significant concern. One reason is that both international and state governments tend to be more preoccupied with other aspects of reconstruction, such as economic and political motives (Kreimer 82). Another major contributor is the fact that many regional conflicts result from cultural differences, such as the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. These differences make it difficult for cultural reconstruction to work equally amongst all groups, especially when each is pushing its own agenda. Regional conflicts also often threaten and destroy culture–institutions easily collapse, priceless artifacts are stolen due to lack of protection, and historical sites are destroyed. A notable example is the looting of the Iraqi State Museum in Baghdad amidst the confusion of the war in 2003. Thousands of artifacts were stolen, leaving the museum with only eight of its twenty-three exhibits when it reopened in 2009 (Myers). Much of the loot may be lost to the highly profitable antiquities black market with little hope of being recovered (Bower 20). Preservation of culture and increased cultural reconstruction is essential in aiding and rebuilding societies.
The United Nations has recognizes the need for cultural protection and reconstruction. In 1947, UNESCO established the Committee for Cultural Reconstruction, a basic guideline for reconstruction efforts that focused on human rights, education, and achievement of better cultural understanding (Cons. Exec. /3e Sess. /36). It also adopted the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, which recommended preventative measures to protect culture during conflicts, including emergency transportation (“Convention for the…”). The 1999 Second Protocol updated preservation strategies and now oversees implementation of the convention (“Second Protocol…”). Other documents include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which specifies equality among “race, colour… language, religion, [etc]”; in effect, it condemns cultural discrimination (A/RES/3/217 A). The Declaration also addresses issues of nationality and the guarantee of “economic, social, and cultural rights indispensable for… dignity and… personality” (A/RES/3/217 A). The recognition of these rights is crucial in preventing cultural conflicts, thus protecting a nation’s culture and people. Finally, the Millennium Development Goals offer a framework for cultural reconstruction, particularly the second goal of Universal Primary Education (“Millennium Development Goals”). Increased education among typically marginalized and oppressed cultural groups offers them a chance to know their rights and fight for them. Education will also let people better appreciate their culture, and thus move to protect it. In more recent years, UNESCO has only become more aware of the vitality of culture. Its 2008-2009 Budget and Programme specifically addresses many aspects of culture, including promotion, protection against illicit trafficking, and safeguarding living heritages (34C/5).
Angola, a nation of rich cultural diversity, acknowledges the significance of cultures, and hopes to preserve and sustain it. As a member of UNESCO since 1977, Angola supports its efforts, and the two are working together to rebuild and promote Angola’s culture in the aftermath of the recent conflict. Museum restorations and site excavations are only some of the work being done (“Backup and Restoration…”). Angola has also ratified the World Heritage Convention, an organization that offers aid in protecting and conserving a nation’s heritage and culture (“Angola” World Heritage…). Angola has submitted several sites to the Convention for aid, and is currently working on the preservation of the M’banza-Kongo historic site (“Angola” World Heritage…). Angola itself has many programs to encourage cultural preservation. In September, the Minister of Education announced his hopes to promote cultural diversity through education, including “music lessons, physical education and extra-school activities, with a view to publicising and valorising the various aspects of the [Angolan] culture” (“Building of…”) This strategy will also secure peace through elevation of self-esteem, national unity, and efforts for sustainable development (“Building of…”). The Angolan Ministry of Culture and Luanda Provincial Government will run a “colloquim on the ‘Preservation of the Luanda Historic Centres…’ with the participation of… [a wide range of] specialists” (“Culture Ministry…”). Finally, Angola has signed onto many important documents related to the reconstruction and preservation of culture. These include the Declaration of Human Rights and the Millennium Development Goals, both of which address culturally related factors (A/RES/3/217 A; “Millennium Development Goals”).
There is much that countries and the global community can do to conserve culture, particularly in post-conflict reconstruction. Primarily, people need to be educated of the significance of culture. The UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity addresses the essential role of education in promoting the importance of cultures, including through awareness, literacy, language, and sharing of knowledge (CLT.2002/WS/9).The value of respecting culture and diversity can be included in school curriculums, or promoted through music, literature, and art. Nations can adopt programs such as Links to Education and Art, a UNESCO program that works to strengthen arts education (“LEA…”). NGOs such as Education International can also help by providing educational opportunities to all people (“Education…”). Education can lessen the chances of regional conflict by encouraging people to build “respect for each other through… tolerance, democracy, and non-violence,” especially in regards to minorities (Daniel 9). “Learning about other cultures and languages” is one way that people can become aware of the multiple ways of “interpreting the world in which we live” (9). Furthermore, people that learn more of their culture will grow a healthy respect for it and develop a sense of pride and self esteem in their heritage. Pride and respect will prompt people to be more willing to preserve their culture, to reconstruct it after times of conflict, and to take measures to protect and conserve it. Thus, many problems related with the reconstruction and preservation of culture, including its supposed triviality, threats from conflicts, and the antiquities black market, can be effectively addressed.
Another important aspect of rebuilding and protecting culture is the development and renovation of cultural institutions such as museums, libraries, etc. The people of a nation or region should be encouraged to take part in expressing their culture through these institutions and activities. Prime examples include holidays, celebrations, and ceremonies, and international events, such as the World Day for Cultural Diversity, for Dialogue and Development (“21…”). States should be encouraged to take initiative and plan, with the help of other countries and international organizations such as UNESCO, exhibits and performances to promote their culture. Such events will spread different cultures throughout the world, thus increasing awareness of the presence of cultural diversity and its importance world. Cultural institutions like museums and libraries can be erected and/or refurbished to allow people to experience the richness and vitality of a nation’s culture. Moreover, the presence cultural institutions serve as a unifying force to a nation’s people. In regards to the incident with the Iraqi State Museum, the Prime Minister of Iraq stated that museum’s recent reopening represented progress and renewed hope for the people (Myers). The people will work together to protect this culture that is so important to them, rather than engage in conflict over their differences. Aid from other nations and funds from international organizations like UNESCO and various NGOs can assist in the construction and hosting of these institutions and activities.
Looting is another concern that must be addressed. Regional and national governments can enforce measures at borders and ports, including increases in port security and regulation of imports and exports. People leaving or entering a country should report the value of goods they are carrying; values over a certain amount can be checked and confirmed by port authorities. Buyers of antiques are to be encouraged to purchase them from legitimate dealers. Measures such as watermarks on regularly renewed certificates can ensure legitimacy of antique products. Strategies suggested in the latest UNESCO Budget Programme should be adopted; these include training of museum staff to better protect artifacts, regularly updated inventory reports, and implementation of national and international cooperative efforts to preserve artifacts (34C/5).
Finally, nations should look into the development of sustainable cultural industries, such as cultural tourism. Tourism is a major multimillion-dollar international industry that has the potential to reintegrate post-conflict regions into the global community, develop economies, and unify communities. People will have a chance to promote the unique aspects of their heritage while visitors from around the world are exposed to a wide selection of different cultures, and are able to experience firsthand its significant impact on a country. As a result, more people will be moved to discover, rebuild, and protect the plethora of cultures present in the world. Through a combination of education, protection and promotion of cultural institutions and events, and the growth of sustainable cultural industries, the cultures of the world can be more easily rebuilt after conflict, and protected for the future.
Throughout history, the single thing that has survived to define the identity and unify the people of a group or nation was culture. Sadly, many people fail to realize the true importance of culture, especially its potential in the aftermath of conflict, and thus fail to protect it. Angola understands the significance of culture, and will act to preserve, and help other nations preserve, this vital aspect of the world. As Albert Camus said, “without culture… society, even when perfect, is but a jungle” (“Culture Quotes”). Culture defines each and every person, and it is therefore the duty of each person to protect and rebuild it in difficult times, and to preserve it for the future.
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