Education as a strategy to prevent genocide: Irina Bokova participates in Ministerial Side Event about the prevention of genocide

On 24 September, the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, took part in an event entitled “Towards Inclusive Societies: Empowerment and Education as a strategy to prevent genocide”, in the context of the UN General Assembly.

The event was co-hosted by the Minister of State of Belgium, HE Mr De Decker and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ghana, Ms Hannah Tatteh, moderated by the Special Advisor of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr Adama Dieng.

The aim of the side event was to explore how to tackle the root causes of hate speech, in particular via targeted awareness raising and educational initiatives. An important question in this regard is how and to what extent new communication and information technologies can serve as an educational instrument to foster an inclusive society. 

The Director-General stressed the crucial role education can play in mitigating hate speech and violence.

“The prevention of genocide starts on the benches of schools” she said.

“Education can help prevent hate speech and undermine prejudice -- by weakening the grounds for ignorance, by promoting learning to live together, by cultivating respect for all people (…) I see this as a human rights imperative, a development imperative and a security imperative.”She drew special attention to need to develop media literacy to prevent hate speech and promote tolerance through new ICTs. “In a world where the ‘local’ is but one click away from the ‘global, we need a renewed commitment to dialogue, tolerance, reconciliation and understanding – online and offline. She continued, highlighting UNESCO’s leadership role in promoting new forms of global citizenship and fostering freedom of expression.

The Director-General also highlighted UNESCO’s commitment to teach about the history of the Holocaust and other genocides. She mentioned in particular the recent creation by UNESCO of several university chairs dedicated to education about genocide, and underlined UNESCO’s work with several African and Latin American ministries of education in that regard.

“Teaching about genocide is not only a work for the memory of those who were lost” she said “it is an effort to alert the living today, and to recall that what happened yesterday can happen again”.

The Minister of State of Belgium emphasized that the root causes of hate speech should be tackled through awareness raising and educational initiatives and programme. Belgium is committed to support initiatives in that regard. 

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ghana called for educating the media about the danger of hate incitement and about media's responsibilities for building a culture of peace. She further highlighted that "educating adults is as important as educating children as they are the perpetrators of the incitement to violence". 

The SG's special Advisor on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng elaborated on the implementation of the joint modules between his office and UNESCO on preventing and responding to incitement to violence that could lead to atrocity crimes.

In closing, Irina Bokova said, “History tells us humanity is capable of the worst and the best. This is why education is so essential -- to transmit our collective history, to nurture respect for equality, human rights and dignity, to fight against every form of hatred and discrimination. This is a struggle for the best of humanity.”