The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, spoke on behalf of the entire UNESCO community in expressing her deep sadness on the death of Ambassador Stephane Hessel on 27 February 2013.
“Stephane Hessel was one of the 20th century’s greatest advocates for human rights, tolerance and mutual understanding. The strength and clarity of his vision of the inherent dignity of every woman and man remains an inspiration to us all today,” declared the Director-General.
Irina Bokova underlined the conviction that guided all of Stephane Hessel’s life and work and which inspired the many leading roles he played in the United Nations, starting with the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“With the passing of Stephane Hessel, the world has lost one of its most forceful and most graceful voices for human rights and one of its strongest defenders of peace and the causes of the United Nations – in these challenging times, his legacy and message remain as powerful and as relevant as ever,” said Irina Bokova.
Stephane Hessel was marked by his experience in World War II, when he joined the French Resistance and was captured and deported to the Buchenwald concentration camp. He subsequently devoted his life to promoting human rights for all, as the basis for a culture of peace and greater respect and mutual understanding.
In 2008, Stephane Hessel was awarded the UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights. His engagement with UNESCO was longstanding, including during the International Decade for the Promotion of a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World, led by UNESCO.
Stephane Hessel remained a prolific writer and activist until the very end, never flagging in his will to stand up for all those who are marginalized and face discrimination.
In an interview with UNESCO on 11 December 2012, Stephane Hessel highlighted the challenges the world faces:
“[…] without underestimating the enormous progress made thus far, there is still much to be done so that women, men and children - living together and communicating with each other - can become genuine global citizens, living together in the mutual respect that is essential to their well-being.”
In this context, he stressed the important role of UNESCO:
“At a time when the goal of building peace in the minds of men, one of UNESCO’s objectives, is very far from being achieved, it is through education that current shortcomings can be addressed.”