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UNESCO is the only institution in the United Nations system with a mandate in the field of culture.

In accordance with its Constitution, the Organization assists its Member States in updating their cultural policies. One of its aims is to help Member States formulate appropriate responses to those challenges posed by cultural diversity in all of its forms - be they heritage-related, contemporary or creative activities - as well as those posed by its corollary, i.e., intercultural dialogue. These policies pertain not only to the field of culture proper but also to the role that culture should play in other areas of development.

As the only UN agency specifically mandated with the responsibility for promoting creativity and safeguarding the world’s diverse cultural heritage, UNESCO has a unique role to play among inter-governmental organs in demonstrating that development has a human face which is specific to each region of the world and special to each community.  In a time of unprecedented economic and social change, UNESCO must take the lead to ensure that the Asia-Pacific region’s diverse histories, cultures and habitants are not only preserved, but also tapped as a well-spring of innovation and development, thus being imbued with renewed relevance.

The new challenge for UNESCO in the field of culture is to embed culture at the base of the sustainable development paradigm, not only within the international development agencies, but in the governments of Member States and in communities at large.  This challenge is greatest, with the highest stakes, in the Asia-Pacific region precisely because of the diversity of cultural resources, knowledge and skill available in the region and the fact that these resources are, at the present time, markedly under-mobilized for development.

The United Nations has increasingly highlighted the critical role of culture in the development process.  As the one resource for development that is uniformly available throughout the world, cultures in all their diversity feature centrally in efforts to combat poverty and promote peaceful global coexistence. 

Since the Report of the World Commission on Culture and Development (1995) and the Report of the Stockholm Intergovernmental Conference on Cultural Policies for Development (1998), this programming challenge for UNESCO has been clear.  However, many obstacles still remain in achieving the goals set forth in these documents, particularly within the Asia-Pacific region.  The UNESCO World Heritage List is still characterized by an under-representation of Asia and Pacific sites, particularly those of non-monumental character, in comparison with Europe and the Americas.  Creativity and creators lack the protection of copyright in many countries of the region.  The illicit trade in cultural property is rampant.  Cultural minorities commonly lack protection of their basic human rights, such as rights of citizenship, or access to education and public health, but instead are marketed as tourism products.  Cultural icons are targets for sectarian and political violence. 

The Stockholm Conference provides the framework for culture to serve as the fundamental building block of all development, through adopting an Action Plan with the following five objectives: 

  • to make cultural policy a key component for development strategy
  • to promote creativity and participation in cultural life
  • to reinforce measures to preserve cultural heritage and promote cultural industries
  • to promote cultural and linguistic diversity in the information society
  • to make more human and financial resources available for cultural development

UNESCO Bangkok's Culture supports its member states in their efforts to achieve these objectives.  The regional programme is designed to mobilize the strengths inherent in the diversity of human cultures and cultural resources to contribute to sustained development and eliminate poverty, inequity and communal strife. The programme’s strategy is grounded in an approach that focuses on grassroots-level action, participation and empowerment.  In other words, UNESCO’s programme must seek to mainstream culture in all social, political and economic sphere of governance throughout the region.