The Unifying Aspects of Cultures


Societies and Cultures as Polylogues

Pierre-Emeric Mandl (Bruxelles)
International law and polylogues - a multicultural orchestration: the process behind the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

In spite of coming from different cultures and religions from countries all over the world, Government delegates and NGO representatives, assisted by intergovernmental organizations, are able to draft coherent and comprehensive international legal instruments. What kind of orchestrated processes makes this possible? The word polylogue introduced some years ago by Arne Haselbach could help us in this respect by pointing out a new perspective. Going beyond a mere multicultural dialogue, the notions of polylogue makes us able to perceive the production process of an international legal instrument not only as an organizational process towards a common goal, but also as a multicultural orchestrated production process of meaning and values in specific contexts.

How were tensions defused and how was it possible to reach a series of consistent common agreements on the topic of children's rights, which are directly related to the production, and reproduction of society and culture in their diversity? The different phases of the process were the following: promotion and awareness raising among the public and stake-holders in each country through studies, surveys, panels, national and regional conferences; iterative and interactive processes; establishment of an informal Working Group to prepare the meetings of the official open-ended Working Group entrusted with the drafting process; setting in 1987 a two year deadline for the drafting process; organizing informal meetings between the official meetings of the Working Group - the informal meetings helped delegates to get better acquainted and to establish friendly relations among themselves, to understand each other's positions and to discuss them freely, without the constraints of the formal drafting language, to inform their respective Governments or organizations of the issues at hand and to obtain a feed-back and positions before the formal meeting. The informal meetings were also the first occurrence in the history of international instruments where NGOs took part on a equal footing in an intergovernmental forum.

From a polylogue perspective, the different phases at the national and regional level, developed in the national languages, based on surveys, studies and round-tables, necessarily involved translations, transpositions, integration of existing local and foreign concepts and value systems, all within a common goal : the Convention. This national and regional polylogues in their turn rendered possible the polylogues of the informal meetings of the Working Group, leading to a better understanding and respect of the diversity of positions held while crafting convergence in goals to be attained within a strict deadline. These successive polylogues in their diverse contexts resulted in the polylogue of the drafting process itself which entailed shifts in firmly-held positions leading to new value systems in order to come up with an acceptable and coherent legal instrument. The 1989 deadline was kept. Never before was ever a Convention adopted by so many in such a short time.