The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, is participating in today’s historic march for freedom and solidarity in Paris, France, held after the attack against Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday, January 7, and after three days of terrorist attacks, that killed 17 people in France.
The march brings together nearly 50 heads of states and government, including many political and religious leaders. Led by French President Francois Hollande, the march is also being attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. The Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu will also join the procession, along with the President of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas. The march includes representatives from European institutions -- Donald Tusk, President of the Council, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament as well as Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs. The Presidents of Mali and Nigeria, HE Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and HE Mahamadou Issoufou, the United States Secretary of Justice, Eric Holder, are also marching, alongside the Canadian Minister of Public Safety, Steven Blaney, the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, the leaders of the Arab League, Foreign Minister of the UAE, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and the Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Boyko Borissov. The heads of Government of Poland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Malta, Finland, Portugal and Luxembourg are also participating in this historic event.
The Director-General has reiterated the mandate and commitment of UNESCO in promoting freedom of expression and defending a free, pluralistic and independent media. On behalf of the Organisation, she expressed deep concern at such brutal sectarian violence, calling for unity and solidarity in response.
"The attack in Vincennes is criminal and anti-Semitic, featuring horrendous violence, following in the wake of the attacks of Toulouse and Brussels. Over the last few days, unspeakable attacks have taken place against Muslim places of worship and mosques have been desecrated. The terrorists are seeking to divide society, to set communities up against each other, and we must prevent this at all cost. This is the significance of this march, and the meaning of my participation, on behalf of the United Nations, guided by this spirit of solidarity," said the Director General.
"Beyond expressions of sympathy and solidarity, we must act. For UNESCO, this means, first, to continue supporting and advancing freedom of expression and of the press, fighting for the safety of journalists and against impunity. We must bolster all our work in education, in promoting dialogue and understanding between cultures and religions. Fanatical violence reflects a perversion of the mind of its perpetrator, which can paralyze the thinking of those who are its victims, spreading fear, blocking all reasoning and facilitating simplistic assimilations. As sectarian violence spreads through hate speech, through lies and the manipulation of religion, we must respond by fostering tools that enable young people to resist such manipulations, and this brings us back to the founding principle of UNESCO -- since wars begin in the minds of men and women, we must build the defenses of peace in the minds of men and women."
UNESCO is the United Nations organization mandated to promote freedom of expression and freedom of the press, and to enhance the safety of journalists. The Organization leads this struggle across the world, standing up every time a journalist is killed, calling for justice to be done. UNESCO leads the United Nations Action Plan for the safety of journalists, working with governments around the world, and coordinating the work of the United Nations system as a whole.