The Oral and Intangible Heritage of South Asia

News UNESCO - 16th March 2006

Speech address by Mr Koïchiro Matsuura Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on the occasion of the performance by artists from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka

Your Excellency Mr Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Bhutan,
Goodwill Ambassadors,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very happy to welcome you this evening to UNESCO Headquarters for this special event - the performance by 57 artists from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, representing the Oral and Intangible Heritage of South Asia.

We are highly honoured today by the presence of a number of distinguished guests representing these countries and also by many UNESCO Goodwill Ambassadors. To all of you, let me extend once again a warm welcome to UNESCO House.

This special performance is organized on the occasion of the annual meeting of UNESCO Goodwill Ambassadors as well as the annual meeting of the Governing Council of the South Asia Foundation, founded in 2000 by Mr Madanjeet Singh, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.

Tonight's performance is dedicated to the intangible cultural heritage of South Asia. As you may know, the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO's General Conference in 2003, will enter into force very soon. Indeed, the 30 States Parties necessary had been registered on 20th January last. Today, we already have 38 States that have ratified the Convention. I am particularly pleased to count, among the States Parties, six countries from Asia, including three from the South Asia sub-region, namely, Bhutan, India and Pakistan. I hope that the number of States Parties will grow in coming days so that they will be able to participate in the first Assembly of States Parties that I intend to convene before the end of June of this year.

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.

With regard to this evening's event, I am delighted to infortn you that "The Baul Songs" from Bangladesh and "The Mask Dance of the Drums from Drametse" from Bhutan, which will be performed tonight, were proclaimed by UNESCO last year as Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Let me thank once again Mr Singh and the South Asia Foundation for their generosity in organizing this evening, which will enable us to appreciate the Oral and Intangible Heritage of this culturally rich region of the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The cooperation between Mr Singh and UNESCO started a long time ago. In the framework of the United Nations Year for Tolerance in 1995, and in connection with the 125th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, UNESCO established an international award, the "UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence".

This prize, which is awarded every two years for exceptional contributions and leadership in the field of the promotion of tolerance, was made possible by a generous donation from Mr Singh.

In November 2000, he was designated as UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador in recognition of his promotion of tolerance and mutual understanding worldwide and especially in South Asia. I would like to congratulate Mr Singh on the launch of the book "The Sasia Story", which is published in English, French and Spanish as well as in the different languages of the South Asia sub-region.

This story depicts his search for ways to foster and strengthen cooperative initiatives throughout South Asia.

Let me also take this opportunity to thank Mr Singh and the members of the Governing Council of the South Asia Foundation for their efforts concerning the establishment of the "Madanjeet Singh Institute for Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage". We are very grateful for this most welcome initiative.

In light of his enormous contribution to UNESCO over many years and his efforts to promote education, culture and mutual understanding in South Asia and beyond, it gives me great pleasure to now bestow upon Mr Madanjeet Singh the 60th Anniversary of UNESCO Medal.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Now I turn over the stage to the performers, who will present an evening of music and spectacle that will, I am sure, live long in our memory.

Thank you.