UNESCO Calls For Islands To Stop Trafficking Of Artifacts

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Pacific urged to sign Convention on Cultural Diversity

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, July 7, 2014) – The UN's science and culture body UNESCO is calling on Pacific nations to sign the 2005 Convention on Cultural Diversity to help stop the trafficking of cultural artefacts.

UNESCO's Director for the Pacific, Etienne Cle'ment, says countries must act to put a stop to the illegal trafficking of artefacts as well as to protect their cultural diversity, including their languages.

"Signing the convention is a political commitment from governments to address the issue and has a certain level of accountability to the other countries," Mr Cle'ment said.

"This has to be accompanied by ... legislation, rules and regulations, and this of course should be implemented and enforced.

"These legal provisions should be enforced and [this is] where most of the countries have great difficulties."

In Papua New Guinea for the Festival of Melanesian Arts and Culture, Mr Cle'ment told Pacific Beat artefact trafficking is on the rise in the Pacific, mainly due to improvements to infrastructure and technology.

"The accessibility of countries is certainly one [contributing factor] and that is particularly in the case of PNG which is the largest Pacific country," he said.

"They're building roads everywhere, villages that have never been accessible in the past are now accessible, communities are starting to sell their artefacts so in the Pacific it's growing, it's the phenomenon that happened in Africa 20 years ago."

Mr Cle'ment says it is not simply physical artefacts that are at risk of being lost, but intangible cultural practices such as dance, music and language.

He says the opening up of the Pacific to modern global culture is degrading traditional performance.

"Some communities are very prone to modify these cultural expressions, and that's the case of dance and performance to a point that the linkage with the spiritual aspect as disappeared," he said.

"I saw a number of performances being displayed for the Festival of Melanesian Arts and Culture, I've seen some of the cultural expressions which have kind of mixed traditional dance with ritual significance with house music up to a point that it has completely transformed the nature of it now.

"The question is, where is the limit? The danger is of course that this new creative performing arts makes the traditional one completely disappear."

Mr Cle'ment says governments must be more pro-active to protect traditional culture, as many communities do not realise their culture is disappearing until it is too late.

"With the advancement of communication and speaking about roads in particular, the movements, especially young people moving from the communities to the city, there is a fascination to economic progress and all the prosperity that goes with it," he said.

"Clearly when the prosperity comes and starts to reach the villages that is seen as the first priority and it's legitimate in a way, so some communities, miss the opportunity to protect their cultural heritage and it has gone, that includes the language also."

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