UNESCO addresses the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues: Universal Access to Knowledge for the Empowerment of Indigenous Peoples

As the UN specialized agency responsible for international cooperation in the field of education, the sciences, culture and communication, UNESCO is significantly contributing to increasing and diffusing knowledge, as well as to enhancing peace and mutual understanding by promoting cultural and linguistic diversity. This week, UNESCO’s representatives attended the fifteenth session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, held at United Nations Headquarters, in New York, USA.

UNESCO is convinced that access to information and knowledge is an integral part of the universal rights for the empowerment of all citizens and that it is crucial for upholding sustainable development and democracy. Despite the progress achieved in the facilitation of these rights, there are still many communities around the world, including indigenous ones, which are not able to access on and off-line content, including in their respective languages. Moreover, their exceptionally diverse and abundant documentary heritage is often ignored and barely preserved and shared. Also, exposure of this documentary heritage sometimes happens without taking into consideration the views or the interests of these communities as legitimate rights-holders.

Speaking on two separate items on the Agenda of the UN Forum, Dr. Boyan Radoykov, from UNESCO’s Communication and Information Sector, reaffirmed the Organization’s commitment to promote universal access to multilingual information in cyberspace as one of the core aspects of building inclusive knowledge societies and underscored that “ultimately, it is about effectively protecting the invaluable tangible and intangible heritage of our world, which is rich with its multidimensional diversity, with its irreplaceable variety of mixtures of small and large communities and nations, with its constantly innovating know-hows and policies to accumulate and preserve knowledge for the future generations about the past and present traditions, cultures and civilizations”. In this respect, he also referred to UNESCO’s Atlas of Languages in Danger as a global monitoring tool which provides information on the status of linguistic diversity and about the 2,500 languages that are in danger, most of which are spoken by indigenous communities around the world.

Additionally, the side event organized by UNESCO, entitled “Universal Access to Information in Cyberspace for Empowerment of Indigenous Peoples”, addressed digital empowerment of indigenous communities within three thematic focus-areas:

Promotion of indigenous languages in cyberspace

Mr Christopher Moseley, Chief-Editor of the UNESCO’s Atlas of the World Languages in Danger shared concrete examples on how the online tool – UNESCO Atlas of Languages in Danger - contributes to the promotion of universal access to multilingual information by monitoring the status of linguistic diversity at a global level. Reference was also made to UNESCO’s plans to develop a “World Atlas of Languages” and to the continued efforts to implement UNESCO’s normative instrument “Recommendation concerning the Promotion and Use of Multilingualism and Universal Access to Cyberspace” (2003). The outcomes of the Regional Conference for Central America “Multilingualism in cyberspace: Indigenous Languages for Empowerment”, which took place from 27-28 November 2015 in San Jose, Costa Rica, were presented as well to the participants of the session.

Digital preservation of documentary heritage of indigenous communities

UNESCO’s representative, Dr. Radoykov, introduced the normative instrument “Recommendation concerning the Preservation of, and Access to, Documentary Heritage Including in Digital Form”, recently adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO, which provides a strategic framework for coordinated and sustainable actions for the effective preservation of documentary heritage worldwide.

In the digital preservation field, Mr Paul Trilsbeek, Head The Language Archive, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, The Netherlands, shared information about the “Language Archive” inscription related to the documentary heritage of indigenous communities on the International Registry of the Memory of the World Programme. The nominated heritage offers and preserves a unique sample of the world’s linguistic and cultural diversity. It represents a landmark for language documentation in terms of quality of content and archiving infrastructure.

Ethical dimensions of making information and documentary heritage of indigenous communities accessible to all

Dr. Dick Kawooya, Assistant Professor from School of Library and Information Science, University of South Carolina, USA addressed the ethical dimensions of making data, information and documentary heritage of indigenous communities accessible in the public domain. Respect of fundamental universal ethical principles, in particular those related to the production of new content, storage, distribution, privacy, access to and use by a global community, was debated and examples of best practices were shared with the participants in the side event.

The event ended with a question-and-answer segment providing opportunity for the audience to react and exchange views with the panelists.