The 38th session of UNESCO’s General Conference opened today with an eye on the future. The biennial meeting of the governing body will set the path for UNESCO as it reviews programme and policy plans aimed at achieving the 2015-2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were adopted in New York in September.
During its session, which will end on 18 November, UNESCO will host an unprecedented number of heads of State and Government to celebrate the 70th anniversary in a Leaders’ Forum.
As it opened this morning, the General Conference of UNESCO, which brings together its 195 Member States, was marked by the admission to the Organization of Montserrat as its 10th Associate Member. Another notable event was the visit of Haakon, the Crown Prince of Norway, who stressed that UNESCO’s role and mandate were as important today as they were 70 years ago.
“Today the world is facing the largest refugee crisis since World War Two. Sixty million people are fleeing from war and conflict, we share a joint responsibility to act,” said the Prince. “Today as it was 70 years ago, UNESCO is in an excellent position to unite and strengthen our efforts,” said the Prince.
The outgoing President of the General Conference, Hao Ping, Vice Minister of Education of China, reiterated UNESCO’s commitment to achieve the objectives of the new SDGs. He spoke of “UNESCO’s irreplaceable role in dialogue and peace building […] Dialogue on an equal footing between all countries and civilizations is more important than ever,” he said, as “the current world is going through a period of change and reorganization.”
Mohamed Sameh Amr, the Chairperson of UNESCO’s Executive Board, who is also the Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Egypt to the Organization, echoed the President’s strong commitment to the SDGs and spoke of “profound transformations not only in social terms, but also in all areas of the Organization’s activities and mandate.” Reviewing UNESCO’s role in education, science, culture and communication, the Chairperson particularly emphasized the importance of UNESCO’s work in fighting the scourge of extremism, “which we must tackle at its root, notably through education.”
The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, proclaimed a renewed commitment to the founding principles of the institution 70 years after its creation. “UNESCO is born of the idea that if peace and development are to last, they must be deeply rooted in the hearts and minds of peoples. This conviction remains unchanged and is our compass in today’s changing world,” she said.
As the representatives of Member States resumed their work in plenary session in the early afternoon, they elected Stanley Mutumba Simataa, Deputy Minister of Information and Communication Technology of Namibia, to preside over the 38th session of the General Conference of UNESCO.
“In time of despair, UNESCO is called upon to bring foresight and hope to the peoples of the world through education, including education for peace, tolerance, democracy and human rights, through the sciences, notably with the development of dissemination of scientific knowledge to improve responses to unprecedented environmental changes now occurring, through culture by building bridges amongst different cultures, safeguarding and promoting cultural heritage and creativity, and through communication and information, through the free flow of information and ideas,” said President Simataa in his first comments to the General Conference. “There is no doubt UNESCO remains a beacon of hope in a world littered with deep-seated intolerance and despair.”
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