In his first address to the international community since the deadly terrorist attacks that struck Paris on 13 November, the President of France, François Hollande, declared his commitment to “freedom, human creativity and intercultural dialogue.”
The French President made his address at the Leaders’ Forum, which on 16 and 17 November brought together Heads of State and Government from all over the world in the context of the 38th session of UNESCO’s General Conference, presided by Stanley Mutumba Simataa.
The afternoon session of the Leaders' Forum, organized on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of UNESCO, also featured addresses by the President of the Republic of Malta, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca and the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev.
The French President, welcomed to UNESCO by the Organization’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, was accompanied by the French Minister for the Economy and Finance, Michel Sapin, and the Minister for Culture, Fleur Pellerin, and the Secretary of State in Charge of Development and the Francophonie, Annick Girardin. The French President declared: “I wished to be present at the General Conference because you stand for the unity of all cultures of the world. […] And what better place to affirm the need to hold fast than here, at UNESCO, an institution which was born of a Utopia to unite the whole of humanity through science, education and culture and which found a welcoming home in Paris.”
President Hollande paid tribute to UNESCO’s crucial role in protecting cultural heritage and cultural diversity. “Yes, UNESCO is the moral conscience of humanity. What underpinned its foundation was the promotion of the diversity of cultures, a diversity based on the idea that culture links people to their history and to their territory; a diversity anchored in the recognition of the equal dignity of cultures, as every people has a special message to bring to the world; a diversity which rejects uniformity and promotes pluralism of opinion and belief; a diversity which makes education a driver of universal emancipation.”
The French President went on to highlight the importance of UNESCO’s Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, as it marks its 10th anniversary.
He also spoke of a plan of action France intends to implement following the destruction of cultural heritage sites in Iraq and Syria, and called for the creation of an international fund to support cultural properties in danger.
Earlier in the afternoon, in a message read by United States Ambassador Crystal Nix-Hines, Permanent Delegate of the U.S. to UNESCO, U.S. President Barack Obama paid tribute to the victims of the attacks in Paris and thanked UNESCO for its “unwavering commitment to building peace and tolerance around the world.” He encouraged the Organization to pursue its mandate in global citizenship education and reiterated his determination to fight violent extremism, which led to the organization of the Leaders’ Summit on Countering Violent Extremism during the United Nations General Assembly in September this year.
Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, the President of Malta, also addressed the Leaders’ Forum this afternoon, stressing the key role of culture and intercultural dialogue in endowing the young generation with the tools needed to respond to violence and to the rejection of others. She also highlighted the pertinence of UNESCO’s mandate, 70 years after its creation. “UNESCO remains critical in facilitating networks of solidarity between different communities at national, regional and global levels and in providing a carefully considered understanding of the challenges faced by humanity.”
Echoing this declaration, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan invited the international community to bolster its support for the Organization. “More time and resources should be invested into the spread of a culture of peace. UNESCO has the appropriate mandate, genuine experience, and rich assets such as education, culture, sport, communication and science to serve as one of the most effective and shortest ways to prevent conflicts.”
- Photo gallery: Visit of H.E. Mr François Hollande, President of France
- Video on demand: François Hollande's speech at UNESCO
- B-roll of President Hollande’s speech is available for download.