UNESCO backs South Asia Foundation's work on regional cooperation

The Hindu - 18th March 2006
Paris: The Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, opened on Friday the annual meeting of the South Asia Foundation at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. The South Asia Foundation (SAF), founded in 2000 by UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Madanjeet Singh, promotes regional cooperation and peace through education, understanding and friendship among the people of South Asia. The meeting was attended by chairpersons of SAF chapters in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

According to a SAF-UNESCO press release, Mr. Matsuura expressed his pleasure that the creation of the Institute of Cultural Heritage in Afghanistan was progressing so rapidly.
The Institute is due to be inaugurated later this year. He added that UNESCO would continue to support the creation of similar institutes in other South Asian countries in consultation with relevant UNESCO sectors and affiliated institutes.

Following the meeting, the Director-General launched Mr. Madanjeet Singh's latest book, The Sasia Story, published in cooperation with UNESCO in 33 European and South Asian languages. This is the first time a UNESCO publication has been so widely translated.

In a brief speech, Mr. Singh recalled the fine spirit in which India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote a Foreword to his 1954 book for UNESCO titled INDIA, Paintings from Ajanta caves. The Foreword to his new book has been written by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh; and this time there is a preface by the Director-General of UNESCO.

These events coincided with the annual meeting of UNESCO Goodwill Ambassadors. Mr. Matsuura thanked them for their continuing support for the safeguarding of the world's oral and intangible cultural heritage.

This year, two new masterpieces, the Baul songs of Bangladesh and the Drametse Ngacham dance of Bhutan, have been included in UNESCO's Proclamation on, 'Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity'.
  South Asian symphony

These masterpieces were among several performed on Thursday night in a concert organised at UNESCO headquarters by the South Asia Foundation. Over 40 artists from eight South Asian countries participated in an interesting and colourful event that featured traditional ghatam players of India, dancers from the Institute of Nepalese Performing Arts, Manipuri and folk dancers from Bangladesh, traditional dances from Sri Lanka, Qawwali musicians from Pakistan, and musicians from Afghanistan.

The concert was opened by Mr. Matsuura who presented Madanjeet Singh with a UNESCO 60th anniversary medal in recognition of his generosity, commitment, and vision in organising the event and for his longstanding collaboration with UNESCO. In a brief speech, Mr. Singh said that this occasion was one of the most emotional events of his life, the concert ending with all artists joining hands in a celebration of friendship ancr fraternity. Mr. Singh also took the opportunity to introduce his son, Jeet Singh, who will be taking over as President of South Asia Foundation.

The concert, which took place in a packed auditorium, was dedicated to the "oral and intangible heritage of South Asia." Mr. Matsuura observed that the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO's General Conference in 2003, would enter into force soon and he would convene the first Assembly of State Parties to this convention before the end of June 2006.

"I am particularly pleased to count among the States Parties," Mr. Matsuura observed, "six countries from Asia, including three from the South Asia sub-region, namely, Bhutan, India and Pakistan ... This Convention is designed to bind its States Parties into taking the necessary measures to ensure the safeguarding of their intangible cultural heritage, and to promote cooperation and solidarity at regional and sub-regional levels in this field. It is also intended to encourage the exchange of information, experiences and joint initiatives to this end."