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The rapid expansion of HIV/AIDS in the Mekong region is the focus of growing concern by international and regional organizations, governments, NGOs and community groups. It is a region which contains zones of high HIV/AIDS infection and transmission, as well as areas vulnerable to an explosive new expansion of the epidemic.

Many different ethnic groups live in the Mekong region. These minority people are at risk because of lack of access to education, poverty, lack of culturally-appropriate information in indigenous languages, cultural and social degeneration within traditional communities, non-traditional drug use, and increasing involvement in the sex trade.

While ethnic minorities still represent a relatively small percentage of the total population in Thailand, they are overrepresented in the sex industry and particularly vulnerable to exploitation, violence and maltreatment.

Due to UNESCO’s special mandate to work with ethnic minorities - under the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity -, the Trafficking and HIV/AIDS project is dedicated to work with these vulnerable groups. In order to implement informed and effective programmes, UNESCO emphasizes the role of research and capacity building to work with ethnic minorities and to support sustainable, locally-managed projects. 

A Mandate to Work with Ethnic Minorities

Under the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, unanimously adopted in November 2001 by UNESCO’s Member States, UNESCO has a unique mandate to work with ethnic minorities and indigenous people in order to promote human rights and ensure the preservation and promotion of the fruitful diversity of cultures.

ARTICLE 4: Human rights as guarantees of cultural diversity

The defense of cultural diversity is an ethical imperative, inseparable from respect for human dignity. It implies a commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular the rights of persons belonging to minorities and those of indigenous peoples. No one may invoke cultural diversity to infringe upon human rights guaranteed by international law, nor to limit their scope.

ARTICLE 5: Cultural rights as an enabling environment for cultural diversity

Cultural rights are an integral part of human rights, which are universal, indivisible and interdependent. The flourishing of creative diversity requires the full implementation of cultural rights as defined in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in Articles 13 and 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. All persons have therefore the right to express themselves and to create and disseminate their work in the language of their choice, and particularly in their mother tongue; all persons are entitled to quality education and training that fully respect their cultural identity; and all persons have the right to participate in the cultural life of their choice and conduct their own cultural practices, subject to respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.