On 3 November, 2015, Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General introduced the General Policy debate of the 38th session of the UNESCO General Conference.
In her report, the Director-General set the stage for a world facing rising turbulence, where the mandate of UNESCO has never been so important. She underlined the turning point moment of the General Conference, one month after agreement on the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and one month before the Paris Climate Change Conference (Cop 21).
“The new Agenda comes at a time of turbulence -- when refugee flows have become a crisis, when poverty is rife, inequalities are deepening, and when the planet faces increasing pressure,” said Irina Bokova, noting the rise of unprecedented cultural cleansing, devastating conflict and challenges to human rights and dignity.
“Seven decades after its creation, the core idea of UNESCO resounds more powerfully than ever: we can build stronger and more resilient societies through education, the sciences, cultures and the free flow of ideas – these are our ultimate renewable energy sources.”
The Director-General lined up the actions that UNESCO has taken over the last two years to respond to turbulence, to counter violent extremism and to support States in their policies: to halt the illicit trafficking of cultural goods, to implement UN Security Council resolution 2199 and the rebuilding of the 14 mausoleums of Timbuktu, Mali. This includes also UNESCO’s action to advance quality education for all young women and men, including IDPs and refugees, and to bolster youth resilience against radicalisation and violent extremism, including online.
Irina Bokova turned to the new 2030 Agenda, thanking member States for their engagement in placing UNESCO’s messages at its heart – from the comprehensive goal on education to the sciences, stand-alone goals on water management and ocean sustainability, as well as a clear recognition of culture as an enabler of sustainability, from bridging digital divides to supporting freedom of expression and good governance.
“UNESCO must translate these promises into change on the ground,” said Irina Bokova. “UNESCO is fit for purpose.”
Irina Bokova called on all Member States to support UNESCO ever more – to take reform further forward, to strengthen the Organisation ever more. She reviewed the wide-ranging transformation the Organisation has undergone at every level – from enhancing transparency to rationalising structures, from new partnerships to bolstering UNESCO’s leadership across the UN system.
Irina Bokova closed her Introduction with a powerful appeal to all Member States to renew with the values UNESCO has embodied for 70 years and for the promise of a new humanism that it carries for societies across the world.
“It is not enough to connect, we must share”, she said, taking inspiration on the many initiatives UNESCO is leading to protect share heritage, joint textbooks, cross-borders biosphere reserves, and many more.
“The role of UNESCO is to propose initiatives that bind people together, regardless of their faith or origins” she said – “Our role is to strengthen intellectual and moral solidarity among peoples, to strengthen the conviction of humanity as a single family, united in its diversity. This is the founding audacity of UNESCO, and we need this same audacity today.”
On this occasion, Irina Bokova welcomed the unanimous election of HE Mr Stanley Mutumba Simataa, Deputy Minister of Information and Communication Technology of Namibia as the President of the 38th Session of the UNESCO General Conference.
"The President was clear in his speech to Member States: "The historic narrative of a humane world order characterised by lasting peace, has never been as relevant and profound than it is today when the world and humankind continue to experience unending conflicts and natural disasters."
"There is no doubt," said the new President to Member States, "that UNESCO remains a beacon of hope in a world littered with deep-seated intolerance and despair."