Cultural Rights: SDG Summit 2023 must not repeat old mistakes, says UN expert

Geneva, 12 September, 2023.- A UN expert today criticised the Political Declaration for the 2023 SDG Summit, saying its recognition of the role of culture, cultural diversity and cultural rights for sustainable development was poor and lacked understanding of what was truly at stake.

“Culture is more than just an “enabler” of sustainable development. It is an indispensable part of it,” said Alexandra Xanthaki, the UN Special Rapporteur on cultural rights.

“It is regrettable that the Summit will miss a vital opportunity to fully recognise cultural development as an integral part of sustainable development and the 2030 Agenda,” Xanthaki said, pointing out that the same thing happened in 2015 when the Agenda was adopted. “Culture should be the fourth dimension of sustainable development, and we cannot wait seven more years if we really want to leave no one behind,” she said.

Xanthaki said that while the current draft acknowledges that culture contributes to more effective and sustainable development policies and measures at all levels, States must recognise that cultural rights are at the core of sustainable development processes.

“How can we have sustainable development if people and communities are not enabled to develop and use their creativity?? If they are not those who decide on their development priorities based on their philosophies and aspirations? They must implement their practices, and lead their own development plans,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“Time and time again, we see development that disregards the development of the identity individuals and groups. We see development that is alien to the values, priorities and practices of the people concerned. The implementation of cultural rights is paramount if sustainable development is to be truly sustainable,” she said.

Xanthaki said sustainable development processes require development projects to be community-led at all stages, including conception, design, decision-making, implementation and management. Local communities must have ownership of the entire process, the expert said.

“These processes are truly community-led only if they are aligned with and nurture the aspirations, customs, traditions, systems and worldviews of individuals and peoples,” Xanthaki said. “Otherwise, we fail people by pretending that we are committed to sustainable development.”

The Special Rapporteur said the understanding of sustainable development where cultural rights are seen only as luxury, means that international development and trade organisations are currently failing cultural rights by not engaging with identities and aspirations of individuals and peoples.

“The violation of cultural rights in development and trade processes must cease,” Xanthaki said. “Development processes that violate human rights, including cultural rights, are not sustainable,” she said.

The 2023 SDG Summit will take place on 18-19 September 2023 in New York, to mark the beginning of a new phase of accelerated progress towards the SDGs with high-level political guidance on actions leading up to 2030.

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