Chuo Online

  • Top
  • Opinion
  • Research
  • Education
  • People
  • RSS

Top>Research>Sustainable development and culture


Maki Nishiumi

Maki Nishiumi [profile]

Education Course

Sustainable development and culture

Maki Nishiumi
Professor of International law, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: International law

International Law Association Sofia Conference

At the end of August last year, I attended the ILA Conference held in Sofia, Bulgaria. The Association's main objectives are the study, clarification and development of both public and private international law, and the Association, founded in Brussels in 1873, is an organization of lawyers on a global scale ( window). With branches in 46 countries and regions, it boasts a membership of over 3500. The conference is held biennially and attracts hundreds of participants from around the world. The Association has more than 20 committees which cover topics such as Baselines under the Law of the Sea, Cultural Heritage Law, Feminism and International Law, International Family Law, Islamic Law and International Law, Reparation for Victims of Armed Conflict, Space Law, Non-State Actors, and The Legal Principles relating to Climate Change. Over several years, each committee holds meetings when required to discuss and consider their themes, and when the time is right, reports and resolutions are presented at the conference. These resolutions are adopted after deliberations at the general assembly on the final day of the conference.

I belonged to the International Law on Sustainable Development Committee. The committee was launched in 2003 and consists of 30 members from 20 countries. Our committee presented the 1st~4th reports at the conferences held in Berlin, Toronto, Rio de Janeiro, and the Hague. We presented our final report at the latest conference, and it was passed by unanimous vote at the general assembly. The final report considered and evaluated how sustainable development is being introduced in international adjudication. Many judicial precedents such as those from the International Court of Justice, International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, European Court of Human Rights, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, World Trade Organization Dispute Settlement Body, North American Free Trade Agreement, and International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, were subjects of the investigation. The detailed analysis and study of the final report was extremely valuable and will, without a doubt, be a common asset for international law researchers with an interest in sustainable development in the future. Countries are not legally bound by the reports and resolutions adopted by the Association. However, several do indirectly influence practices in countries, international organizations, and international adjudication, in turn, contributing to the shape and interpretation of international law and domestic legal standards in each field. The adoption of the final report signaled the end of our committee's duties and its dissolution. Last November saw the launch of a new committee, the Role of International Law in Sustainable Natural Resource Management for Development Committee, which will conduct research on sustainable development, especially from the aspect of natural resource management.

What is sustainable development?

Since 1970, destruction of the ozone layer, global warming, global environment destruction such as declining biodiversity, and pollution has gained international attention. This environmental destruction and pollution can not be blamed on any specific country, and no country can escape the effects of this destruction and pollution, meaning it carries interest for every nation. Furthermore, those problems will inevitably have an impact on future generations. That is to say, this environmental destruction and pollution is an issue that involves the existence of the people of every country and goes beyond space-time. In order to adequately deal with these global environmental issues, the current rules that were made to focus on the perpetrator-victim relationship are inappropriate, and we must develop new rules that are more comprehensive and future-orientated. Sustainable development has been a large contributor to these new rules.

Since being advocated in the 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future, sustainable development has rapidly spread around the world. It was a comprehensive concept meaning development to fulfill the needs of the present generation without harming the capacity to fulfill the needs of future generations. Comprising factors included, integrated regulations, sustainable use and preservation of natural resources, intergenerational and intragenerational equity, common but differentiated responsibility, good governance, and precautional principle. Sustainable development involves international treaties with the objective protecting the global environment such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer. It has also been applied in the International Court of Justice in cases such as the Legality of the Use of Nuclear Weapons, Gabcikovo-Nagymaros Project, Pulp mills on the River Uruguay, and the WTO Dispute Settlement Body in the Import Prohibition of Certain Shrimp and Shrimp Products case. Those results saw sustainable development take a position in legal principles of international environmental law. Current international law require that, when countries and international organizations decide upon and implement economic and environmental policies, sustainable development objectives are taken into consideration.

At the same time, sustainable development is also an ethical concept. This is seen in points taking in consideration the quality of life of the current generation and future generations (diachronic side), as well as points urging change in the mass production and mass consumption lifestyle of people in the north, as well as points stressing the necessity of development and effective governing by people in the south (synchronic side). In other words, sustainable development is based on the human view and world view that the possibility of self-realization as equals should be guaranteed, and encourages us to take another look at our lives on a global scale.

Sustainable development and cultural diversity

In the beginning, sustainable development was taken to be a concept to ensure compatibility between environment preservation and economic development. However, along with the expansion of the development concept, it became included in the social aspects there as well. If sustainable development was going to be a totally comprehensive idea, then it was natural that it would also be included in the cultural aspect. People live in some kind of social group, and those social groups possess their own intrinsic spiritual, material, intellectual, and emotional characteristics, in other words, culture. Sustainable development of human society can not be discussed without taking into consideration the cultural aspects that always come with human lifestyle. Accordingly, in the same way as the economy, environment and society, in regards to culture, it is required of us to protect the cultural environment of the present generation so as to not harm the cultural environment of future generations.

An important part of the cultural side of sustainable development is cultural diversity. Why is cultural diversity necessary for sustainable development? There are two reasons backing this. The first is human survival as a means of cultural existence. The coexistence of various cultures leads to humans being able to better adapt to the environment. It is because of the coexistence of diverse cultures that the human race has overcome environmental change and continued to survive. The emergence of differing cultures and maintaining of cultural diversity has raised the possibility of the human race to adapt to environmental change in the future. Furthermore, in order for culture itself to retain its creativity and vitality, the existence of other cultures is a must. New ideas are born from other cultures, and the source of cultural creativity lies within constant encounters between differing cultures. In order to realize cross-cultural exchange and reform, as a prerequisite, cultural diversity must be present.

The second reason is guarantee of security and the safeguarding of human rights for minorities. A lack of mutual understanding between countries has resulted in war, conflicts and terrorism. To build peace, it is necessary to have mutual understanding and tolerance between cultures. If people accept cultural diversity and understand cultures other than their own, it will contribute to the prevention of conflict and building of peace. With the outbreak of ethnic issues and regional conflicts after the end of the Cold War, cross-civilization and cross-cultural talks have been taken from a security and peace-building viewpoint as countermeasures. On the other hand, there is the existence within a single nation of people belonging to cultures such as indigenous people, minority races, and immigrants. The acceptance of various cultures is the acceptance of these peoples way of life, values and language. Respecting cultural diversity, at the same time as contributing to security and peace-building, also contributes to the realization of a multicultural society that respects others.

Cultural diversity, multiculturalism, cultural rights

In 2005, UNESCO adopted the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (coming into effect in 2007, not ratified by Japan). This convention states cultural diversity to be the diversity of group and societal culture discovering expression, and by linking development, human rights, peace, democracy, free distribution of thought, cultural assets, domestic and international propagation of cultural services, sustainable development, and common heritage of mankind etc., it has become an open and dynamic concept. Also, the sovereign rights of a country to take measures to protect and promote cultural diversity have been approved. However, there is no reference to multiculturalism, which will be discussed below, and there is no requirement for a nation to have its government protect traditional culture, language or customs of minority peoples through multiculturalism policies, or encourage those people to participate in society. With no such requirement, this treaty, which declares that a country possesses the sovereign right to protect and promote cultural diversity, infers cross-nationalistic characteristics, and does not eradicate the danger of minorities being oppressed by the central government under the guise of sovereign rights. On the other hand, in relation to sustainable development, from the point of the acceptance of cultural diversity being a major driving force behind sustainable development, especially in the relationship between culture and development in developing nations, and culture being a basic driving force of development and the cultural aspects of development being deemed to hold the same importance as the economic aspects, this convention is an extremely vital legal document.

Multiculturalism and cultural rights are concepts which are closely involved with this kind of cultural diversity. Multiculturalism is a government's stance protecting and allowing constant recognition of multiple cultures both at home and abroad, on the basis that diverse cultures carried by groups such as ethnic groups, immigrant groups, discrimination groups, and religious minorities exist. In order for cultural diversity as a cultural aspect of sustainable development to be perfectly implemented internally, it is required of governments to adopt multiculturalism policies. Cultural rights are the overall individual rights relating to a cultural region, and are made up of the right to enjoy culture, the right to create culture, and the right to participate in cultural activities. There we can see civil liberty and social right aspects which are able to be justified legally in the form of national constitutions and treaties. Starting with the recognition of cultural rights, cultural diversity which is confined to the sovereign rights of a state is transformed into multiculturalism.

Japan was positive in adopting the above mentioned Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. However, this convention was perceived as a stance only to confine cultural regions, and awareness to harmoniously and comprehensively take culture in the same way as the economy and trade was weak. Furthermore, in order to realize multiculturalism and cultural rights in our country, many issues such as minority and foreigner education, labour, and public participation remain. Multiculturalism as a cultural aspect of sustainable development will only become concrete and substantial through the realization of multiculturalism dependent on cultural rights. I hope that society where self expression of individuals and human groups is possible in culture along with the economy, politics and environment becomes a reality at regional, national and global level, and not a day too soon.

Maki Nishiumi
Professor of International law, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: International law
Born in Tokyo, in 1955. Graduated from the Department of Law, Faculty of Law, Chuo University in 1980. Withdrew from the Doctoral Course of the Graduate School of Law, Chuo University in 1985. Received Master of Law degree (Chuo University). Appointed to current post in 1996 after serving as Associate Professor on both the Kumamoto University Faculty of Law and the Chuo University Faculty of Law. Research themes include culture and international law, humanitarian aid, and North-South issues and international law. Major publications and translations include Problèmes juridiques concernant la famille d'aujourd'hui en France et au Japon (Coauthor, Institute of Comparative Law in Japan, 2001), United Nations' Contributions to the Prevention and Settlement of Conflicts (Coauthor, Institute of Comparative Law in Japan, 2003), and Humanitarian Aid Activities by NGOs [NGO No Jindou Shien Katsudou] (Co-translator, Collection Que sais-je?, 2005).