The 38th session of the UNESCO General Conference closed on 18 November, reaffirming the Organization’s role in the fight against violent extremism and in taking forward the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The General Conference is the governing body of the Organization.
These priorities were highlighted by the unprecedented number of Heads of State and Government at UNESCO for the session. Marking UNESCO’s 70th anniversary, the Leaders’ Forum (16-17 November) saw a resounding reaffirmation of solidarity with France after the terrorist attacks on 13 November and the importance of UNESCO’s mandate.
In closing the session, General Conference President Stanley Mutumba Simataa declared: “Despite the extremely difficult context of our host country, our deliberations concluded with the participation of the highest level of representation of Member States. I believe that this is a strong signal that, together, we refuse to give in to the pressures, threats and destabilization attempts of extremism.”
In her closing address, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova thanked Member States for their commitment to the Organization, saying this “is especially meaningful after the devastating terrorist attacks that Paris suffered on 13 November. This criminal act of violence affects us all. It attacks that which we hold most dear: freedom, human rights, the dignity of every woman and man, our sense of belonging to a single humanity.”
French President François Hollande chose UNESCO as the venue for his first address to the international community after 13 November: “What better place to affirm the need to hold fast than here, at UNESCO, an institution which was born of the will to unite the whole of humanity through education and culture and which found a welcoming home in Paris.”
In this regard, the General Conference adopted a Strategy for Reinforcing UNESCO’s Action for the Protection of Culture and the Promotion of Cultural Pluralism in the Event of Armed Conflict, to integrate protecting cultural heritage and diversity into humanitarian interventions in conflict and emergency situations.
An important debate on education to counter violent extremism took place in the framework of the General Conference, organized by UNESCO and the United States, following the recent resolution on education as a tool to prevent violent extremism. Throughout the session, Member States emphasized the role of schools in countering extremism and promoting values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination.
The core role of education in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is the focus of the Education 2030 Framework for Action, endorsed during the General Conference by more than 180 States.
In addition, the UNESCO-Japan Prize on Education for Sustainable Development was awarded for the first time during this session.
Access to knowledge and information was reinforced by the General Conference in a Resolution on Internet Universality. The General Conference also issued a Recommendation on the Preservation and Access to Documentary Heritage, including Digital Heritage, and proclaimed 28 September as the International Day for the Universal Access to Information.
Ahead of the International Conference on Climate Change (COP21), the General Conference tasked the Organization to prepare a Declaration on Ethical Principles for Climate Change: Adaptation and Mitigation.
Launched on World Science Day, during the General Conference, the UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030 shows that all countries now see research and innovation as key to fostering sustainable economic growth and furthering their development.
Concern for sustainable development also inspired Member States to create the UNESCO Global Geoparks label, underlining the importance of outstanding geological sites and landscapes.
Ethical principles guided Member States to revise the 1978 International Charter for Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport, to reinforce the protection of sport from doping, violence, manipulation and corruption.
Strengthening the Organization’s universality, the General Conference welcomed Montserrat as UNESCO’s 10th Associate Member.