The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, (UNESCO), with representatives from countries around the world has been working to secure a lasting peace since the end of the second World War. The initial group of thirty-seven countries, including Canada that founded UNESCO in November 1945 has grown to include 195 member states and 11 associate members, as of this posting.

Much of the work done by UNESCO is reflected in the various Recommendations, Declarations, and Conventions that have been negotiated and promoted over the years. Not surprisingly, this work also reflects and calls for an understanding of Living Heritage; the values, beliefs, and ways of living that shape, and are in turn shaped by, the continuously changing world we inhabit.

According UNESCO’s website:

  • Recommendations outline the universal principles to which the member States agree to give the “greatest possible authority and to afford the broadest possible support.”
  • Declarations are another means of defining norms but are not subject to ratification by member states. However, “it may be said that in United Nations practice, a “declaration” is a solemn instrument resorted to only in very rare cases relating to matters of major and lasting importance where maximum compliance is expected.”
  • Conventions are “subject to ratification, acceptance or accession by States. They define rules with which the States undertake to comply.”

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights in 1948. Late last year, the UN launched a year-long celebration that will culminate on the 10 December 2018 in order to encourage dialogue on the importance and the impact of the Declaration. The anniversary is an opportunity to not only celebrate but to reaffirm our commitment to upholding universal values and human rights.

Subsequently, the international community agreed to promote and support many aspects of human rights and more recently sustainable development. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expanded on the different aspects of human rights and the realities of implementing them however, the separate Covenants in no way “imply that one category of human rights is more important than another.” Both were adopted in 1966 and both clearly state “that all human rights are interrelated, indivisible, interdependent and equally important.”

UNESCO has continued to expand our understanding over the years, negotiating a shared understanding of the significance of Living Heritage in many forms that include but are not limited to the:


Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, 1972

​Currently 185 countries have ratified the convention, including Canada in 1976.


Declaration on Cultural Policies, 1982

At the World Conference on Cultural Policies (MONDIACULT), a very broad definition of culture was adopted for the first time that clearly connects Living Heritage to development: "Culture... is ... the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group. It includes not only arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs."


Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989

The first Convention to include the full range of human rights, including civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights; Canada ratified the convention in 1991.


Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992

Signed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro it is the first global agreement to cover all aspects of biological diversity: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. The Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD), established to support the goals of the Convention, is based in Montreal.


Declaration on Cultural Diversity, 2001

​This Declaration reflects the culmination of several precedents:

​​Declaration of Principles on Tolerance, 1995

​​Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice, 1978

​​Declaration of Principles of International Cultural Co-operation, 1966

​​Convention against Discrimination in Education, 1960


Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH), 2003

Canada played a leading role in the development of the Convention through the work of Dr. Gerald Pocius, (Professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland) and continues to provide leadership and promote the convention through various organizations, (including Heritage Saskatchewan), and events throughout the country. Several provinces and territories are already making strides in promoting and implementing the Convention despite the fact that Canada has not yet ratified it.


Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, 2005

Canada was among the first countries to support the process that led to the development of this Convention and was one of the first countries to ratify it.Why ratify this one and not the one above related to ICH is worth thinking about, since safeguarding ICH is fundamental to ensuring diverse cultural expressions.


Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007

Canada’s Commission on Truth and Reconciliation: Calls to Action, 2015 repeatedly calls on the Government of Canada to develop a national action plan, strategies, and other concrete measures to achieve the goals of this Declaration.


Declaration on the Links between Biological and Cultural Diversity, 2014

Recognizing the inextricable link between biological and cultural diversity, UNESCO and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD) partnered to raise awareness of the importance of the interactions between biological and cultural diversity for global sustainability. With the CBD’s focuson biodiversity and UNESCO’s focus on cultural diversity, the two institutions launched the Joint Programme on the Links between Biological and Cultural Diversity in 2010. The aim is to strengthen our understanding of the connection between biological and cultural diversity and enhance the synergies between the provisions of conventions, and the variety of initiatives and programs.

Canada has been an active participant in the work of the United Nations since its inception.  Taken together this body of work clearly situates Living Heritage within a framework of human rights including: civil and political rights; the rights of the child; the rights of Indigenous peoples; and economic, social and cultural rights. Furthermore it also reflects a growing understanding and support from the international community of nations to act collaboratively to address the defining issues of our time and demonstrate a human response to the forces of globalization.

For more information visit UNESCO’s website at:; there you will find much food for thought and inspiration on how to think globally and act locally.