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14.00  Cultural Diversity, Intangible Heritage and Human Rights: A Case Study from Glasgow

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9:00, Monday 6 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

This paper will focus on concepts of cultural diversity and intangible heritage with particular reference to the notion of human rights. The discourse of human rights is a product of modern times, emerging first during the European Enlightenment in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the wake of the Second World War, international covenants such as the United Nation’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) set the context for the concept of cultural rights, and this has implications for the management of cultural heritage. In response to the threat of globalization and cultural homogenization, the protection of cultural diversity became a major issue for UNESCO in the 1990s. By 2002, a scheme called the “Proclamation of Master Pieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” was put in place. This was the forerunner of a number of conventions for intangible cultural heritage with implied access to cultural heritage. These included the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003), the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005) and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007).  

Against the backdrop of this international framework, this paper will query the application and the implication of a human rights discourse for cultural heritage with reference to a specific case study of the Bajuni, a small settled population in Glasgow. Although the Home Office recognizes that Somali Bajuni are entitled to asylum due to the ongoing persecution that they suffer in Somalia, many Bajuni continue to experience difficulties since asylum is granted only with “proof” that an individual is Somali Bajuni. Given that many Bajuni do not have official papers to support their identity, they have been subject to language analysis testing to determine their country of origin. This method is highly controversial and unreliable—as Kibajuni (language of the Bajuni) is a contested Swahili dialect. Indeed, some even argue that it is an entirely separate language. The “trial of identity” relies primarily on the tester judging the “Bajuni-ness” of their conversation. If testers question the “authenticity” of an individual’s language, they also query the individual’s knowledge of the Bajuni islands and their cultural heritage. Many Bajuni report being evaluated by testers who speak only Swahili, or testers with out-of-date knowledge of the Bajuni context. They are refused asylum on the basis of their cultural “inauthenticity” and are frequently ascribed an alternative identity; allowing the authorities to deport them from Scotland—a situation that could not proceed were they deemed to be authentically Somali. 


Using this case study, this paper will ask a range of broader questions, such as:  
• Who has the right to define what is an “appropriate” intangible cultural heritage?  
• Who controls its stewardship and beneficiaries?  
• What are the consequences when official definitions clash with those of communities or individuals?  
• To what extent can these individuals draw on the international human rights framework to have their human rights recognized?  
• How can a definition of cultural heritage impact the human rights of an individual or group?  
• How strong is the link between heritage rights, human rights, and cultural rights?  

Arguing for greater dialogue between the fields of cultural heritage and human rights, this paper also cautions that such discourses can deny as well as enhance access to human rights in particular circumstances.

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