During her visit to Washington from 4 to 5, the Director-General addressed the Annual Meeting of the US National Commission for UNESCO at the Department of State on 5 December.
"UNESCO is part of our DNA," declared Assistant Secretary of State Sheba Crocker in her opening of the Annual Meeting, addressing an audience of some 150 members of the National Commission, gathered at the State Department for their annual meeting --"and we want to continue remain engaged with UNESCO".
For her part, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Ms. Nerissa Cook emphasized that "the US Government remains committed to working with UNESCO," while underlining the contribution of UNESCO Chairs in the United States of America through the strong engagement of American Universities, from the Georgetown University, to the University of Pennsylvania and the George Washington University, in advancing core priorities of UNESCO, notably in the areas of education and gender equality.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Cook also highlighted the major achievement in the recent inscription of the site of Poverty Point on the World Heritage List, recalling its iconic importance as a crucible of the meeting of cultures and the impact of this recognition for the social and economic development of the area.
In a vibrant appeal for continued engagement, the Director-General addressed the Commissioners gathered at the Annual Meeting declaring “we have always valued your contribution to carry the message of UNESCO across the United States.” and encouraged the members of the National Commission in their respective fields, to “think big” at UNESCO's side at today's growing challenges of social inequalities and increasing intercultural and interreligious tensions and conflict.
“American engagement in UNESCO is as important today as it was in 1945,” said Irina Bokova.
The Director General also spoke of her resolve to strengthen the Organization’s leadership across the UN system in the year when we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the UN and of UNESCO.
The Director-General also held a number bilateral meetings at the United States State Department, as well as with UNESCO partners and supporters.
In the course of her meeting with Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Organizations Affairs, Sheba Crocker, the Director-General briefed her on the outcomes of the recently concluded UNESCO conference on the destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria, where she has called for the creation of “protected cultural zones" and for enhanced action to stop cultural cleansing. The meeting took place in the presence of U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO, H. E. Ms. Crystal Nix-Hines. Assistant Secretary Sheba Crocker congratulated the Director General and UNESCO on the success of the conference.
The Director-General and the Assistant Secretary also discussed areas for continued engagement of the United States of America in UNESCO and the critical importance of United States' commitment to the Organization in the context of the implementation of the post-2015 global development agenda.
Irina Bokova reiterated her strong appeal for the U.S. full commitment to UNESCO and a rapid resolving of the current withholding of its funding to the Organization.
The Director General also held a number of bilateral meetings in an effort to strengthen UNESCO’s coalition of partners in the U.S., both at governmental level and in civil society, including The Antiquities Coalition, so as to enhance mechanisms to protect culture in conflict areas and to curb the illicit trafficking in cultural objects.
In particular, the Director- General explained the challenges in tracking objects looted from archaeological sites. “It is very difficult to trace objects that come from illicit excavations for which inventories are lacking,” she said.
"It has also become critical to develop research so as to gather evidence, facts and figures on the extent and financial impact of illicit trafficking," she pursued.
To address the challenge requires a coordinated effort at all levels. “There is a need for a more concerted action between affected countries, neighbouring countries and the larger community of partners,” Irina Bokova added, “including INTERPOL, customs, UNODC and ICOM" and she underscored the need for "devising and advocating for the adoption of legal measures in the context of the Security Council.”