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UNOG Library Talks: "Linguistic Rights and Duties in the Evolution of Public Laws"

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev

2 octobre 2013
UNOG Library Talks: "Linguistic Rights and Duties in the Evolution of Public Laws"

Remarks by Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
UNOG Library Talks: “Linguistic Rights and Duties in the Evolution
of Public Laws”

Palais des Nations, Library Events Room
Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Your Excellency Ambassador Serra
Your Excellency Ambassador Dumitriu
Dr. Poggeschi
Dr. Levrat
Dear Colleagues
Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the Palais des Nations and to the Library of the UN Office at Geneva. As part of our regular ‘Library Talks’ series, we will discuss an interesting and important topic this afternoon – linguistic rights and their relationship to public laws. I would like to express my appreciation to Ambassador Serra and the Permanent Mission of Italy for their partnership in the organization of this event and for bringing us Dr. Poggeschi’s thought-provoking book.
My thanks also to Ambassador Dumitriu and Dr. Levrat for their participation in this discussion and support for the Library Talks forum.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, half of the world’s estimated six thousand-plus languages will likely die out by the end of the century without efforts to protect them.

Constituting an essential part of a community, language is a carrier of values, knowledge and ideas. The spoken word is important in the transmission of virtually all intangible cultural heritage, especially in oral traditions and expressions, songs and most rituals.

Forming an inherent part of identity, the protection of the language of minority groups is essential to safeguarding the human rights of these groups. This is an integral part of the United Nations work not only in human rights, but also sustainable development and peace and security.

Multilingualism and the protection of linguistic rights are promoted through the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, and numerous resolutions of the UN General Assembly. These various instruments encourage governments to protect these rights through national legislation and public laws and also outline the priorities of the UN in working on these issues.

While we see multilingualism as a source of strength and opportunity, it is not always viewed in this light. Minority languages have at times been a source of tension for governments. Proponents of linguistic rights have sometimes been associated with secessionist movements or have been seen as a threat to the integrity or unity of a State. However, the protection of linguistic minority rights is an essential component of good governance. Protecting these rights and enshrining them in law can help towards prevention of tension and conflict, and the construction of equal and stable societies.

Today’s interconnected and globalized world also has an impact on minority languages and linguistic diversity. The growth of the Internet and web-based information in just a few languages can serve as a detriment to the protection and promotion of other languages.

It is for these reasons that the United Nations continues to urge the use of books and textbooks in local languages to support education in mother tongues, as well as their use in public life, media, public administration and judicial fields, among others. The translation into and promotion of local languages support linguistic and cultural diversity and serves as the foundation for all social, economic and cultural life. Technology may also be used to promote minority languages with projects such as the digital archiving of the world’s languages.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I know from my own national context how important the protection and promotion of linguistic rights is to cultural diversity and to a stable, functioning society.
I am pleased that we will be able to further explore these issues this afternoon. Through the Library Talks forum, we have an excellent opportunity to integrate expert research into the work of the United Nations, and to promote multilingualism – one of my priorities personally and for the UN Office at Geneva.

I look forward to a fruitful discussion!

Thank you very much.

This speech is part of a curated selection from various official events and is posted as prepared.