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Diversity is not a threat’ confirms key UN development report

12 August 2004

The annual Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has confirmed that rather than a source of division and ‘clashes’ creating obstacles to development, diversity is at the core of human development and should be encouraged and expanded. The influential report strongly refutes a number of assumptions that have led cultural diversity to be blamed as being a cause of violent conflict and instability, when in fact the root causes of such problems lie in discrimination, exclusion and suppression of cultural freedom.

The highly respected Human Development Report has taken as its theme in 2004, ‘Cultural Liberty in Today’s Diverse World’ and the value of accommodation of diverse ethnicities, religions, languages and values. This, the report states, is an essential component of stability and equitable development, and once in place, allows states to focus on development for all amid conditions of peace, stability and democracy. According to the report, such acceptance and accommodation provides an essential bedrock of equality in diversity, upon which to build sustainable futures and realistically address the challenges of the Millennium Development Goals in economic growth and employment, health and education. Minority Rights Group International (MRG) points out that ‘cultural liberty’ is a goal best achieved through respect for cultural rights and that it is most often minorities within society whose cultural rights are under threat.

Importantly, the report points out that unless those who are poor and marginalized – often members of ethnic or religious minorities, indigenous peoples and migrants – can participate in, and have influence over political action and processes, they are unlikely to have equitable access to services, justice or opportunities. It is this exclusion and injustice, rather than diversity itself, which lies at the heart of developmental failures and conflict. The report echoes calls by MRG to address the economic, social and cultural rights of the most vulnerable and marginalized communities, not only as obligations under international human rights law, but as a means towards eradicating poverty and building inclusive societies. MRG congratulates the use of disaggregated data on ethnic, religious and linguistic groups within the new report. This demonstrates clearly the potential for measurement of cultural liberty, by gathering disaggregated data on issues including diversity, discrimination and levels of participation, in line with the existing HDR index on gender and development. Such data, MRG suggests, is essential in revealing the full extent of discrimination facing ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities, which too often remains hidden.

MRG has welcomed the report, which reflects many of its own concerns, and ongoing calls for greater understanding and cooperation between communities and policies to promote minority and indigenous rights and participation. The UNDP report puts neglected cultural rights and cultural identity firmly back on the rights and development agenda in its call for expansion of ‘cultural freedoms’. According to MRG the message is long overdue and has a strong foundation in international human rights law, which ranks cultural rights as indivisible and equal in status with all other economic, social and civil and political rights. Importantly the report establishes that it is a mistake to categorize individuals too simplistically, only as Muslim, for example, when they may also belong to many other identity groups perhaps based on ethnic origin, gender, age, political persuasion or profession, which may be equally important to individuals, their identities and the choices which they make.

‘The UNDP has made a strong statement in support of diversity and those who see it not as a threat, but as a potential solution to be welcomed and encouraged’, stated MRG spokesperson, Graham Fox. ‘This is not simply a call for legislative and policy change, which in themselves are not enough, it is a plea for much wider understanding, tolerance and acceptance of those who are different from ourselves. Inclusive values are eroded by discriminatory policies, and a growing tide of ill-informed opinion amongst the media and the far right, that equates cultural difference with threat and exploitation.’

MRG has been pleased to have the opportunity to consult with the UNDP on issues of minority rights and development, and their importance in achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. MRG encourages the UNDP to take forward operationally the many key ideas expressed in the Human Development Report 2004, drawing upon the existing policy note, UNDP and Indigenous Peoples: A Policy of Engagement and in consideration of its on-going interest in developing similar policy positions in regard to minorities.

Notes for editors

Download the UNDP Human Development Report: ‘Cultural Liberty in Today’s Diverse World‘.

For more information, contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].