Executive Board strengthens UNESCO mandate against violence in schools, to support media professionals and to counter destruction of cultural heritage

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© UNESCO/Cyril Bailleul

In times of turbulence, when UNESCO's role is in rising demand across the world, UNESCO’s Executive Board adopted key decisions to strengthen its action across the board for lasting peace and sustainable development -- including on countering violence against cultural heritage, girls at school, and journalists -- resulting from a two-week session that ended on 23 April. The Executive Board also adopted a decision to strengthen education for global citizenship.

With Member States, the Director-General underlined the strategic importance of this session of the Executive Board – in a turning point year for the international community, as States shape a new global sustainable development agenda. This explained, she said, her determination to accelerate the pace of reform, to improve delivery, and to maintain a constant dialogue with Member States.

“This is essential today, as we pursue reform and shape the post-2015 development agenda,” she said. “This is also a moment of great responsibility. UNESCO was created seventy years ago on the idea peace, to be lasting, had to be built in new ways, this message has never been so important – we must carry it across the world, and place it at the heart of the future agenda.”

The Board’s decision condemning the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage strengthened UNESCO’s role in countering this growing problem.  It calls on UNESCO to coordinate its work with other UN bodies, Member States and civil society so that international legislation against the destruction of heritage can be better enforced. The Decision supports initiatives taken by UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, to prioritize the protection of heritage and cultural diversity in conflict situations. It asks the Director-General to report back in the autumn on consultations with Member States and UN bodies about the establishment of protected cultural zones around important heritage sites.

On the subject of violence in education, the Executive Board adopted a decision to condemn all forms of gender-based violence and promote the creation of safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for children. The decision invites the Director-General to submit a roadmap to combat school-related gender-based violence at its next session.  This first-ever UN decision on gender-based violence at school acknowledges its negative consequences on children’s health, learning, school attendance and school completion. A paper on the subject was produced for International Women’s Day by the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), UNESCO and the Education for All Global Monitoring Report. It shows that nearly 250 million pupils may be subject to harassment every year on the way to school or while they are there.

Turning to education’s role in preventing violent extremism and combating all forms of intolerance and discrimination, the Executive Board adopted a decision calling upon UNESCO to strengthen global citizenship education programmes, build the capacity of educators, policymakers, civil society and youth, lead global debate and facilitate the sharing of best practices in this domain. The decision builds on UNESCO’s commitment to promoting Global Citizenship through education, reflected in two Forums organized on the topic (December 2013 and January 2015), the recent launch of a clearinghouse and its inclusion as a target in the post-2015 development agenda.  

The Executive Board also expressed concern for the safety of journalists and freedom of expression in a decision to strengthen its leadership in implementing the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. The decision also deplores the growing number of violent attacks against women in both mainstream and social media. It urges cooperation between UNESCO and other UN organizations, Member States and professional organizations to improve safety, end impunity for crimes against media workers.

Chaired by Mohamed Sameh Amr (Egypt), the Board also examined the Director-General’s draft Programme and Budget for 2016-2017.  Member States led important debates on the future budget of the Organisation stating their unanimous consensus on a zero nominal growth budget that takes into account the current difficulties facing the Organisation. It also approved a revised four-year evaluation policy.

The Executive Board further agreed to continue reform efforts so the Organization can respond more effectively to Member States.  At the invitation of the Chair, two guests spoke to the Executive Board during the session.  Michaëlle Jean, Secretary-General of La Francophonie, called for the reinforcement of multilateralism to defend shared values of human dignity and mutual respect. Abulfas Garayev, Minister of Culture and Tourism of Azerbaijan, briefed delegates on the 3rdWorld Forum on Intercultural Dialogue that will take place in Baku next month.

In his closing remarks, the Chairman commended delegates for their consensus agreement on the Director-General’s programme and budget.  He stated that during the session the Board “made solid achievements and took important decisions” as noted above.  The Chairman stressed that “we need to show the world that UNESCO is more relevant than ever in the 21st century” and that the Organization must secure “its rightful place in the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.”