Verbatim record of the discussions held at the 156th session of the Executive Board during the thematic debate on the following items:
10.2 - Reflection on UNESCO in the twenty-first century
10.6 - The visibility of UNESCO in the Member States 1. The CHAIRPERSON:
Dear colleagues, we shall now move on to items 10.2 - Reflection on UNESCO in the twenty-first century and 10.6 - The visibility of UNESCO in the Member States.
2. You will recall that at our last session, we decided that “Reflection on UNESCO in the twenty-first century” would constitute the thematic debate of our present session. Therefore, the Secretariat has prepared document 156 EX/INF.6. In the same context, Sweden has proposed item 10.6 concerning “The visibility of UNESCO in the Member States”, which is the subject of document 156 EX/46. An additional note, which has been distributed to you, has been prepared by Mr Nils Nilsson, representative of Sweden, whom I wish to thank very much for his contribution. As I informed you at our first plenary meeting, Ms Louise Fréchette, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, will be participating in our debate on a videoconferencing link from 5 p.m. May I remind you that the speaking time allowed for this debate is limited to seven minutes per speaker. I invite the Secretary of the Board to read out the list of speakers as it now stands.
3. The SECRETARY:
The list of speakers for this afternoon is the following: Sweden, Canada, Russian Federation, Germany, Pakistan, Côte d’Ivoire, Zimbabwe, Belgium, Finland, Argentina, United Arab Emirates, Cameroon, United Kingdom and Cuba.
4. The CHAIRPERSON:
Who wishes to be added to this list? Colombia, Egypt, Guinea, Kenya, New Zealand, Barbados, Uganda, Thailand, Ukraine and Indonesia.
5. Dear colleagues, I should like you to tell me now if you wish to take the floor. As time has to be managed, with your permission, I would like to apply Mr Wandiga’s method, i.e. we will draw up the list and, with your authorization, we will then consider it closed. Are there any more countries that wish to speak? Bangladesh and Saint Lucia. With your permission, I consider the list of speakers closed. We have 25 speakers on the list and, of course, Ms Fréchette who will join our debate from New York at 5 p.m. Before giving the floor to the first speaker, I should also like to remind you of what I said in my letter of invitation, that I should be grateful if you would address in your statements the following aspects: (a) the current relevance of UNESCO’s constitutional mandate in view of the rapid changes under way in the world (development strategies for the eradication of poverty, education for all, globalization and multiculturalism; UNESCO and the challenges of science and the information highways); (b) UNESCO’s partners and the role of UNESCO with respect to the rest of the United Nations system (it is in this context that Ms Fréchette will speak); (c) UNESCO’s visibility in the Member States; (d) the management and effectiveness of UNESCO (structures, accountability, transparency). Of course, you are entirely free to organize your statement as you wish, but all these points are intended to provide you with a certain amount of structure for a coherent debate. Without delay, I give the floor to the first speaker on the list, reminding you that the time allowed for statements is limited to seven minutes.
6. Mr NILSSON (Sweden):
Thank you, Mr Chairperson. I will focus on visibility in my intervention. Some months ago I was invited to a meeting with a high-ranking official in a non-Member State. He wanted to get my views on the performance of UNESCO, and he shared with me his views on some of the problems which are connected with the eventual return of that country to UNESCO. He summarized by saying: “The real problem with UNESCO is the lack of visibility”. “Where”, he said, “are the letters to the editor pleading for the return to UNESCO? Where are the editorials, where are the Op-Ed articles from the presidents of universities and the scientific community urging a comeback? Where is the public pressure? The real problem is the lack of visibility”.
7. Of course visibility - or lack of visibility - differs from country to country, but I think most of us could agree that the visibility of UNESCO could be improved. That’s why Sweden has suggested this item - the visibility of UNESCO in the Member States.
8. Visibility is a matter of survival. In a media society, where the competition for visibility is extremely hard, every organization and even company has continuously to update its ability to make itself visible; to say what you are doing is as important as doing it. Visibility is very much a matter of public information and communication and, as you can see in the information document I provided, I have tried to find out how the United Nations and some United Nations agencies are performing in this field. I have deliberately not added UNESCO’s performance into the picture; I will touch upon that later in my intervention.
9. The relevant starting point is the recommendation made by the task force on the orientation of the United Nations public information activities appointed by the Secretary-General Kofi Annan and strongly endorsed by him in his comments underlining “the importance I attach to the role of communications, not as a support function but as an integral part of the programme of the United Nations”. The overall aim is to create “a culture of communication throughout the Organization”. This recognition is a major part of the whole United Nations reform process; and in the final analysis, as the task force puts it, it’s not only a matter of the Organization’s image but “indeed its long-term survival” which “depends upon effectively communicating its message and its activities to an increasingly cost-resistant world”.
10. What goes for the United Nations goes also for UNESCO, the United Nations agency that has communication explicitly mentioned in its mandate.
11. Mr Chairperson, when we talk about information and communication we often do it in a somewhat blurred way. I have used, as you can see in the paper, the definitions used in an ILO paper, and I focused in my study on public information and especially on the role of the media. The target is, as one experienced director put it, “those who read newspapers, watch television news and have a right to vote”.
12. As you can see in my paper, different agencies have different strategies and approaches - but, as I say, you can see that in my paper. But what about the performance of UNESCO in this field? Before I try to answer that question I would like to underline, as several Members of the Board have already done, that the Executive Board, at its 155th session, decided (item 4.1, para. 72) that “a comprehensive strategy on public information, involving also the information activities of the programme sectors, should be incorporated into document 30 C/5. The new strategy should aim at giving greater visibility to UNESCO’s activities in the Member States”. No such strategy is to be found in draft document 30 C/5. The decision seems to have been just ignored. However, in the one and only page devoted to the Office of Public Information (OPI) in document 30 C/5, it seems as if such a strategy is in place. I quote from the first sentence, which skilfully echoes today’s theme: “Increasing the visibility of UNESCO’s action in Member States is one of the main lines of action of the information and communication strategy, in which the Office of Public Information plays a pivotal role”. But no such strategy is available, as far as I have been able to find out. I know that attempts have been made and that the Committee on Public Information was to be revitalized some years ago, but decision 4.1, paragraph 72 is still to be implemented.
13. The result of this lack of an overall strategy is that the resources are scattered all over. The very important radio function is in one part of the structure, the strategic audiovisual production is now under publishing, OPI is in charge of public information but there is also a Principal Press Officer in the Cabinet of the Director-General. Then you have the clouds of newsletters from different departments. Nobody knows the real figure; a guess says about one hundred. And you have the Office of Monthly Periodicals - but that Office deals only with UNESCO Courier and Sources. There are seven other magazines emanating from the House.
14. If you concentrate here on public information, the sphere where OPI operates, how will this “increased visibility”, announced in the sentence I just quoted, how will it take place according to results expected in document 30 C/5?
15. The first answer is “increased impact of information produced through the electronic distribution of the press releases - UNESCOPRESS - produced at Headquarters and in the field”. I am one of those who regularly gets these press releases. They represent a more or less daily visibility of UNESCO, but the sad thing is that the major part of them are useless, as press releases at least. They are a kind of diary of what’s going on in the Organization conferences, prizes, statements by the Director-General, official visits - and as such are pretty interesting for those already interested in the system but they seldom contain really newsworthy information for the outside world and, if it happens, have to be rewritten; and who will do that, especially if the competition is extremely hard?
16. The day I left Sweden I had received 106 press releases this year alone. During this session, at least 19 more have been issued. The last three ones I read back home started in exactly the same way: “UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor will address, will head, today praised, etc.”. One of the latest I picked up here in Paris starts in the same manner: “On the occasion of World Environment Day, 5 June, UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor issued the following message”. Then comes the message - it’s a very important message - but too vague to put headline on.
17. ILO, for instance, and the World Bank and UNICEF, as you can see in the paper, are carefully selective in sending out press releases. The general rule is: you must have something to tell - and tell it convincingly. The press releases must be part of a strategy, reach the right people and have an impact in the media. If there is an inflation in press releases, they will kill each other. In the end nobody cares to read them, not to say use them. I think the OPI people are aware of the fact that there are too many press releases leaving the House, but the pressure is strong. Everybody wants a press release. But the potential of press releases must be carefully developed if they are to add to the visibility of the Organization outside the system.
18. Press kits and press conferences are mentioned as other tools for increased visibility. Press kits, yes. The quality has increased in recent years. The one on World Press Freedom Day, for instance, with the joint message from the Secretary-General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Director-General, was quite good. But still I wonder why UNESCO can’t join forces with the World Association of Newspapers, which also produces an impressive press kit for the same day. Joint forces have a greater impact and the impact is what counts.
19. I haven’t studied the new press kit on the World Science Conference carefully enough to make a review, so to say, I can come back to that in other circumstances.
20. Press conferences: yes, especially if the topic is very much in the minds of the public at large, as the huge amount of clippings from the paedophilia conference clearly demonstrates. But the same rules go for press conferences as for press releases: you must have something to tell - and tell it convincingly. You must build your reputation among media people so that when you invite them, they know that you are worth listening to, while the contrary is very easily established.
21. Mr Chairperson, I will not go too much into detail, even if I am tempted to, but rather try to go back to the overall picture and say the following:
(a) The lack of visibility of UNESCO is not the result of a lack of content to make visible.
(b) Some parts of UNESCO’s activities are indeed visible, like the World Heritage List. The World Book and Copyright Day is becoming another very visible initiative. Other similar activities could possibly be developed into “best-selling” news items too.
(c) The professional task is to identify and communicate what is newsworthy and attractive to the public at large among UNESCO’s programmes and activities.
(d) Every programme sector therefore needs to have its own information experts who are aware of what’s going on and can translate it into action. Their activities should be coordinated by a public information unit at a level that reflects the importance of this issue. You can compare the United Nations Headquarters and WHO.
23. Mr Chairperson, I am still talking about public information, with the public at large as the target audience. And not only about newspapers, of course, but about all kinds of channels: radio, television, websites. In my experience, having followed OPI’s activities for quite a while, there is one link that is failing in OPI’s strategic planning: the National Commissions. They are supposed to be the relay stations in the system, beaming out news and information coming from Headquarters. It doesn’t work that way. Most National Commissions - not to say all of them - do not have the professional capacity to do that job. Some of them can perhaps suggest newspapers and radio stations and television channels, and name names to contact, but they cannot take on the professional job to identify news stories, rewrite them and redirect them to the appropriate channels. That must be done at Headquarters, in Paris.
24. There is a lot more to be said, of course, about public information, but even my extended time has a limit. Let me therefore just add the other two categories: communication and public relations.
25. Communication, in the definition I have used, is mainly concerned with in-house, in-the-system information, and that can for sure be improved. But the impact on the outside world, on visibility, is more limited or indirect.
26. Public relations includes the whole spectrum of specialized newsletters, websites, scientific journals, networks, Courier and Sources, UNESCO Publishing, etc. In this more specific target-oriented information are the National Commissions, which are more in a position to play a helpful role.
Just one brief point. UNESCO Publishing has the potential of being a good equivalent of the best university publishing houses if it is allowed to develop in that direction.
Let me just summarize by saying that the future of UNESCO and its visibility in the Member States are very closely related. Without visibility, no future. That is why Sweden has introduced 156 EX/PLEN/DR.3 and asked for the item to be placed on the provisional agenda of the General Conference. The perception of UNESCO in the public’s mind, true or false, cannot be ignored. The only way to improve the visibility, and the image, is to tell the public at large what UNESCO is doing and do it in the most convincing way. That is why UNESCO needs a coherent strategy for public information, with well-defined objectives and sufficient resources. Thank you Mr Chairperson.
Mr DEMERS (Canada):
Mr Chairperson, Mr Director-General, Mr President of the General Conference, dear colleagues and Members of the Executive Board, it is in a spirit of openmindedness and constructive dialogue that I wish to share with you today the fruits of Canadian thinking on how to bring about the revitalization that UNESCO needs on the threshold of the new century. We desire this revitalization so that UNESCO may truly become the instrument of peace that we all want. Nations and individuals aspire to peace as the foundation for progress, development and human security, which is an important factor in any strategy for peace.
The challenges, known and still unknown, of the coming century will require us to be more flexible, open to change and, at the same time, much more focused and determined in our fundamental mission of peace-building. We will have to adopt new attitudes, partly for budgetary reasons, but also and above all because the task of building sustainable peace is much more delicate and complex than putting into place programmes of activities. There are no simple answers or solutions to the challenges awaiting us.
Neither a change of Director-General nor great initiatives, as impressive as they may be, will bring about the fundamental revitalization of this Organization that is needed. Rather what we need is self-criticism and an inner renewal, carefully carried out, which would place emphasis on a key question: how can each activity and each programme that we pursue or embark on contribute to our primary mandate?
To that end, Canada intends to present a draft resolution at the 30th session of the General Conference proposing a task force that would prepare recommendations on how UNESCO should: (1) refresh its fundamental peace mandate and identify the new challenges in the different sectors of the Organization at the dawn of the twenty-first century in order to set relevant priorities; (2) build closer ties with other international organizations, in the United Nations family and beyond, focusing on how we can bring a needed humanistic face to their work and provide strong ethical leadership; (3) foster transdisciplinarity from within by recognizing the degree of convergence of interests and activities; and (4) develop a flexible planning and decision-making approach that encourages the growth of a learning culture within the Organization.
Canada proposes that this task force be mandated by UNESCO’s Member States to examine these challenges and submit a report to the Executive Board no later than in its autumn 2000 meeting. In this way, the task force’s proposals can be integrated into the upcoming Medium-Term Strategy.
Canada would welcome the support of the Executive Board for this initiative, or alternatively would welcome a recommendation by the Executive Board for the establishment of such a task force. Canada believes that the task force, in keeping with its twenty-first century mandate and the outstanding advances of the global communications revolution, should be as much a “virtual” task force as a physical one - gathering and sharing information, securing ongoing feedback and building consensus and understanding on a “fast-track” basis, while ensuring full and inclusive access to its work. We believe that a task force such as this can serve as a prototype for a UNESCO that itself embraces the opportunities that are afforded by modern technology.
We face in the immediate future the challenge of integrating ourselves into the first true generation of the “wired”, knowledge-based world. However, an unseemly leap on to the technology bandwagon would leave behind the bulk of the world’s people, for whom a knowledge-based world still means basic literacy. Our challenge here, therefore, may be to show how modern advances can be sensitively integrated and put at the service of humanity. We must use technology for what it is - a medium of transmission and a tool for sustainable human progress - and not let it overwhelm us.
Canada’s vision for the future of UNESCO is one where the prime reason for UNESCO’s existence - the construction of peace - becomes much more clearly visible in everything UNESCO does. This construction of peace can be directed towards individuals as well as to nations, to human security as well as to global security. The challenges of harnessing and channelling the best of the world’s work for that durable peace, through education, through science, through culture and through communication, are even more daunting today.
It is UNESCO’s mission to be a prime agent for positive change. Out task is to challenge, to lead and to inspire the human spirit in the pursuit of peace. We have a moral, ethical and intellectual responsibility to all humanity to help build peace. We must forge the links that break down barriers based on fear and misunderstanding. We must create an environment of human security to develop the full potential of every human being.
In today’s complex and changing world, where a pluralistic diversity of cultures and life experiences must be taken into account, we face a greater challenge than ever before of working creatively with the entire United Nations system and other international organizations to secure needed action in our mandate areas. It involves a willingness to recognize that in many instances our main role is that of a vital “value-added” agent that puts a human face on other activities. It also means that we must accept that our role, while morally and intellectually crucial, is a piece of a larger picture. The plain truth is that we simply must learn to work better as a team or face marginalization.
For some time, UNESCO has been operating in a more transdisciplinary manner. Canada supports this approach. But we cannot foster transdisciplinarity by simply adopting new administrative measures. It requires a fundamental shift in internal behaviour and a new approach to institutional learning and organizational change.
As I stated at the start of this presentation, Canada believes that the revitalization of UNESCO for the next century goes far beyond administrative reforms, government systems or even the leadership of particular individuals. At the same time, we must recognize that our administrative and planning structures must evolve to meet new challenges and new ways of harnessing international cooperation. In today’s constantly changing circumstances, it may well be that we need to carefully rethink whether our two principal planning tools - the Medium-Term Strategy and the biennial plans - should be modified somewhat with a view to facilitating more effective and flexible decision-making and fostering a “culture of learning” within the Organization’s structures.
There are numerous choices facing us. There are many ways to proceed. We need to take a moment, but not an eternity, to consider where we have been, what makes us unique and what we need to do to ensure that our mandate remains vital, relevant and at the service of global peace, human security and human development.
We believe that a task force can help show us the best way the Organization can be what it should be for the people of the world - their best hope for global peace and harmony with a human face. Thank you, Mr Chairperson.
43. The CHAIRPERSON:
Ladies and gentlemen, I have great pleasure in welcoming Mr Sredin, Secretary of State, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, who is taking the floor on behalf of his delegation.
44. Mr V. SREDIN (Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation):
Mr Chairperson, Mr Director-General, ladies and gentlemen, I value highly the opportunity given to me to address the members of UNESCO’s governing body. There is no doubting the topicality of this theme for discussion - it is a subject whose time has come. We are leaving behind the twentieth century, which will remain in human memory as the century of two world wars, immense scientific discoveries, the horrors of the atom bombs, the conquest of space and the Cold War. Today we are entering a new age, heralded by the aspiration to establish a multipolar world order. This process, it must be acknowledged, is by no means straightforward. The disposition of forces in the global arena has become far more complex and the geopolitical configuration of entire regions has changed. The world is burdened with numerous conflicts, some with ethnic or religious roots. At the same time attempts are being made to resolve such conflicts by force. The post-war world order is being sorely, and sometimes dangerously, tested.
UNESCO has been in existence for over 50 years. This year marks the forty-fifth anniversary of the signature by Russia of the Organization’s Constitution. Words from the text spring to mind: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”. UNESCO has always seen its aim as the achievement of peace and the common welfare of humanity through cooperation in the fields of education, science and culture. Reading through the Constitution, we find words about peace founded upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of humanity. Undoubtedly in the half-century of its existence, the Organization has built up considerable theoretical and practical experience. However, UNESCO has not escaped the political and ideological turmoil of the outgoing century. As a result, its tremendous potential has not been revealed and used to the full. In such circumstances the contribution of Federico Mayor has been especially substantial, as under his leadership UNESCO has not only managed to overcome an acute crisis but also to boost its international reputation significantly. The Russian Government and the Russian Academy of Sciences have authorized me today to inform you that the Director-General of UNESCO, Federico Mayor, has unanimously been elected a foreign member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The future of UNESCO is not a matter of indifference to Russia, and this is not only because the Organization has traditionally enjoyed widespread popularity and support in our country. We see in UNESCO a serious and independent force in the multipolar world order whose hub is, of course, the United Nations. It would be no exaggeration to say that UNESCO’s purpose is also to serve the international community as an intellectual barometer and ethical touchstone. It seems to us that it is UNESCO’s role to organize broad international humanitarian and intellectual cooperation in the interests of peace and security and to generate new ideas and creative approaches to that end. For many years UNESCO has been facing a dilemma: should it remain chiefly an intellectual forum or should it concentrate its efforts on specific projects. In our opinion, there is no contradiction. Relinquishing its intellectual and ethical mission would deprive the Organization of its universality, but equally we do not agree with the transformation of UNESCO into a talking shop detached from real activity.
The basic structure of UNESCO in the twenty-first century must include at least three components. First, the identification of new problems facing the international community in its fields of competence. Secondly, the mobilization of world intellectual potential to reflect on these problems and develop practical recommendations. And thirdly, the provision of support to Member States in implementing such recommendations by carrying out highly effective projects.
We agree with the overwhelming majority of States that the image of UNESCO in the twenty-first century should be defined through its activity in the area of education. Education should not however lead only to the transmission of knowledge and professional skills. It must have an ethical component. It is precisely through the education system that work on education for peace, tolerance and respect for human rights must be carried out, leading eventually to a culture of peace. In essence, we should be talking about the strategic task of forming individuals for the twenty-first century.
In the field of science, UNESCO has taken what we consider to be the right road, combining action to disseminate and exchange scientific knowledge with profound reflection on the social implications and ethical aspects of scientific and technological progress. The intellectual leadership of UNESCO in this matter must definitely be retained.
With regard to culture, the main task is still to preserve cultural and linguistic diversity in the face of the global trend towards the levelling out of national cultures, and the aggression of mass culture. Cultural pluralism is unquestionably a source of shared wealth. It is the only approach that can help prevent conflicts between civilizations. How can we achieve it? Above all, by stressing tolerance as a fundamental principle in intercultural and inter-ethnic relations and dialogue. We share the words of wisdom in UNESCO’s Constitution to the effect that ignorance of each other’s ways and lives has been a common cause, throughout the history of humanity, of suspicion and mistrust between peoples. We are convinced that UNESCO is capable of shattering that ignorance and taking the world to a new level and quality of cooperation.
Lastly, one more challenge which must not be omitted from reflections on the forthcoming century. It concerns the formation of a global information society. In this field, UNESCO’s action must be directed at ensuring that the information revolution serves the interests of humanity and does not create new threats to its security.
With all the diversity and scale of these tasks facing UNESCO, it is important to bear in mind that we have only one planet and we cannot save it by acting each on our own. That is why it is exceptionally urgent today to overcome the spiritual separation of peoples, to unite their knowledge and efforts so as to save the very basis of life on earth. In our view, the future role of UNESCO depends to a large extent on whether the Organization can renounce outwardly effective programmes that often yield little. We must not allow the Organization which has set itself lofty moral goals to appear in the eyes of the world’s intellectual elite to be a bureaucratic body wasting money on pointless actions.
We link this point to the root-and-branch reform of UNESCO and all its structures. The most important thrust of the reforms must be the concentration of programme activities. Naturally, we all have national priorities. However, it is clearly necessary to demonstrate that we are willing to show some restraint and concentrate on achievable aims. Management and staff policy and the structure of the Secretariat must undergo substantial renewal. Above all this means eliminating duplication in the work of its separate units. We are convinced that making all of UNESCO’s structures more efficient would help improve its financial position, and make it, in particular, more attractive to external sponsors.
As we consider the debate on the future of the Organization to be important, we would suggest that its conclusions be gathered together and an appropriate document produced. It could be discussed at the next session of the Executive Board and then submitted for the consideration of the General Conference. Thereafter, the recommendations of the Executive Board might be reflected in the forthcoming Medium-Term Strategy of UNESCO.
In conclusion, I should like to recall the simple but weighty words of the great French philosopher Diderot. He called for people to strive in order to leave behind more knowledge and happiness than there had been earlier, improving and increasing the heritage left to them. These words might, with every justification, be used in respect of UNESCO’s activity both now and in the future, its lofty aims and purposes. I am convinced that UNESCO is capable of overcoming the difficulties facing it and becoming a really effective and universal intellectual centre, working for the progress of humanity.
56. Mr DERIX (Germany):
Thank you, Mr Chairperson. Germany appreciates today’s thematic debate. In a rapidly changing world it is indispensable for an organization like UNESCO to assess critically from time to time the contemporary relevance of its constitutional mandate and to draw the necessary conclusions from such an evaluation. Considerations of this kind inspired our previous proposal concerning an ad hoc forum of reflection. In spite of unprecedented progress in many fields, we cannot but admit that in many parts of the world wars and armed conflicts, grave violations of human rights, ethnic cleansing, persecution of innocent people and international crime, but also poverty and extreme inequalities, are the sad realities of day-to-day life. It is for this reason that UNESCO’s purpose to contribute to peace, in our view, is as relevant and predominant as it was more than 50 years ago at the time of its foundation. Peace-building therefore remains the most noble objective of UNESCO at this threshold of a new century.
As an intellectual organization, UNESCO 2000 should, in our view, first of all concentrate on its ethical mission. It should be the international forum for ideas from all corners of the world, since without dialogue peace will never have a chance. In conformity with its mandate of peace-building, we see for UNESCO 2000 a priority in the field of human rights education. A broad cooperation with other United Nations agencies and with regional organizations such as the Council of Europe should be sought. UNESCO’s Culture of Peace Programme, as well as the Associated Schools Project - its most successful grass-roots project, could play a catalytical role here.
We also believe, like some of the previous speakers, that at the beginning of a new millennium UNESCO should continue to give priority to education in the larger sense. We would hope that the concentrated follow-up to the world conferences on adult education and higher education as well as to the congress on technical and vocational training will lead to UNESCO’s regaining of the leading role in the field of education within the United Nations system.
Multiculturalism, the globalization of communications and new developments in science and technology present unforeseen challenges. In line with its ethical mission, UNESCO will increasingly be called upon to contribute to the development of generally accepted values and standards to face these challenges. UNESCO’s Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights is a good example of the kinds of responsibilities with which our Organization will be confronted.
UNESCO’s role in the future will be more and more that of a world conscience to preserve human rights in a rapidly changing environment. This should not be understood as an invitation to widen UNESCO’s activities in its fields of competence. On the contrary, more than in the past our Organization will in the future have to concentrate on key issues of its mandate. UNESCO is neither a funding agency nor a humanitarian aid organization. UNESCO should defend its intellectual role by providing a permanent forum for the exchange of ideas, by realizing moderate projects of excellent quality and by being a focal point for the best practices in its fields of competence.
Partnership and complementarity should be the directives in relation to other agencies of the United Nations family and beyond. An essential component of UNESCO in the twenty-first century will be that of a modern management for the Organization. Clear structures and responsibilities in the Secretariat, financial austerity, a transparent personnel policy and an effective evaluation are important milestones on this way.
Mr Chairperson, today’s debate can only be the beginning of a process. The Board will now have to decide as to how to take the results of this debate further. We are flexible on the modalities as long as there is a follow-up. In addition to the Board’s own reflections, we would consider it very useful if a few eminent personalities from UNESCO’s fields of competence would be invited to present their views in one way or another on the future of our Organization. Thank you very much, Mr Chairperson.
Mr MASOOD (Pakistan):
Thank you, Mr Chairperson, for giving me this opportunity to comment on a vital issue which should prove a milestone in determining the very ideals of this world forum.
Mr Chairperson, as we approach the threshold of the twenty-first century the whole world looks towards UNESCO for a society free from want, deprivation and ignorance. Unfortunately the forces of violence, intolerance, national, ethnic and religious differences unleashed in various parts of the world still remain a serious threat to global peace and stability. UNESCO’s message is one of cooperation and development in order to bolster peace and human dignity. But I believe UNESCO is much more than that. Through its vast number of projects, programmes and activities in Member States, this Organization can successfully leave its mark in the minds of men and women as a hope and as an ideal.
As mentioned earlier by the distinguished representatives of Canada and Germany and others, UNESCO must remain a vibrant tool for world peace and the cornerstone of this is education and literacy. It is through education that we increase the share of the dividend that we receive at the end of the day. It is only through education that we can break the barriers of prejudice and intolerance.
Pakistan’s perception of UNESCO as an institution for the twenty-first century is based on the fact that it must focus its actions on the most fundamental areas of those disciplines which are within its mandate and tailor its programmes in education, science and culture for the improvement of the quality of life of all people with emphasis on poverty reduction, peace and security and the preservation of cultural heritage. UNESCO must reorient its programmes to be fully integrated and holistic, not fragmented and dispersed.
Mr Chairperson, permit me to highlight the unique nature of UNESCO amongst other international bodies - its work through a network of National Commissions. It is through these National Commissions that UNESCO’s presence is felt in Member States and it is able to deal directly with government and civil society. This is where its visibility lies. Unfortunately we notice a lack of cohesion between UNESCO’s field offices and our National Commissions. Presently the field offices, instead of developing congenial atmospheres and good working relations with the National Commissions, act as their competitors. This unhealthy trend in our experience does not help the image or the goals of this Organization. It is necessary that UNESCO ensure that its field offices work in close collaboration and consultation with the National Commissions and work out various programmes of community participation which will assist in growth and development of its activities.
Mr Chairperson, spreading UNESCO’s message through the information offices on the pattern of the United Nations is essential, but we already have an effective forum which not only makes UNESCO more accessible, but inculcates a sense of peace and tolerance in our children. I am referring to the UNESCO Clubs and the Associated Schools Project. We in Pakistan have reactivated this project, and I would like to emphasize that after launching the ASPnet activities our people have learned more about UNESCO in the last few years than they did in the last five decades. I do suggest that there is a need to establish information networks in the Member States as well as to strengthen ASPnet more vigorously to spread UNESCO’s message and increase its visibility in Member States. Thank you, Mr Chairperson.
Mr TIO-TOURE (Côte d’Ivoire):
Thank you, Mr Chairperson. How can the defences of peace best be constructed in the minds of men with the tools at UNESCO’s disposal, namely education, science, culture and communication? This vital mission entrusted to the Organization just after the Second World War is as relevant today as it was then. In fact, the end of the Cold War notwithstanding and despite the enormous progress made by humankind in the fields of science, technology, economics, communication, etc., peace is far from prevailing in the minds of men. Of course, there has not been a world war for 50 years, but it has been replaced by bloody, devastating and corrosive conflicts within States or among a small number of States, often in the poorest regions of the world. Moreover, violence, exclusion, intolerance and xenophobia have developed and expanded very rapidly worldwide, spread by unparalleled means of communication, information and disinformation. And yet, it was in order to spare our world the dismal image it has today that the United Nations, UNESCO and all the organizations of the system were established. The results they have obtained therefore fall far short of the Member States’ expectations. By and large, this may amount to a failure of the international institutions, but do the Member States not share some of the responsibility for that failure?
There is another point that must be made. The decade that is drawing to a close has been marked by many world conferences, with their declarations and plans of action. In addition, there have been the reports of independent world commissions with their follow-up structures and the results of the regional “focus” meetings, forums and seminars. UNESCO now has at its disposal a mine of ideas and a store of declarations and professions of faith. Why does it not therefore devote the first decade of the next millennium to the investment in the Member States, by those States and in cooperation with international institutions, of all that capital of ideas and plans of action? In other words, UNESCO would gain from dedicating this new era to action and to the implementation of programmes that have a real, visible and measurable impact.
In this context, we should like to mention a few of the challenges which seem to be crucial for the future and which UNESCO must take up. They are, first, the fight against poverty through the eradication of illiteracy and functional illiteracy and through the strengthening of basic education and education for all throughout life; secondly, the promotion of environmental education and education for human rights, democracy, tolerance and national and international citizenship; thirdly, the sharing of scientific knowledge and mastery of the new information and communication technologies as major educational tools; and, lastly, the struggle for the maintenance of cultural diversity and the promotion of culture as a vital part of the process of human development and fulfilment.
To take up these challenges is to work for peace, to sow the seeds of peace, and to build peace in the minds of men. It is clear therefore that the concept of the culture of peace must be the leaven, the bond between all of the Organization’s programmes, as well as their outcome.
Of all the main thrusts of activity that we have just mentioned, it is obvious that the first, which concerns poverty alleviation through education, must be an upstream activity, since it is the most basic, the foundation on which the other main lines of action must be built. Basic education and literacy do indeed determine the development of the skills that communities need to participate in the attainment of the objectives set in connection with the other challenges. It is also in relation to this first activity that UNESCO has an undeniable comparative advantage even though it increasingly shares this field with other international organizations that could supplant it if we are not careful. Be that as it may, UNESCO, UNICEF, UNDP, the World Bank and all the other organizations of the United Nations system should work more closely together on the ground to check the widening gap between those who possess knowledge and those who do not, between the haves and the have-nots. As long as the battle against poverty and ignorance has not been won, UNESCO’s mandate will remain relevant because violence will persist, and peace in the minds of men will remain a mere aspiration, just like peace inside and outside States.
It is appropriate to recall here that we are still within the First United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty. The international community has therefore become aware of the fact that, to win the battle against this scourge, which affects more than 1.3 billion people worldwide living on an income of less than one dollar per day, it would be highly desirable for the efforts of all bodies in the United Nations system to focus on that objective. UNESCO, for its part, does not need to change its programmes radically, at least for the next ten years. Rather, it should try to mobilize and strengthen its financial and human resources for poverty alleviation in order to gain more in terms of efficiency and visibility, while responding in a practical manner to the needs of communities in respect of education and knowledge.
The image of the international community today is more than worrisome having regard to global equilibrium in the next century. The commitments made in Rio de Janeiro at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development are not being honoured, nor are the pledges made by the industrialized countries to devote 0.7 per cent of their gross domestic product to development. Third World countries weighed down by debt will find it difficult to take up the challenges of the next millennium in UNESCO’s fields of competence. Curiously, just when there are some signs of movement on the reduction of the debt burden, official aid to the poorest countries is being slashed ever more drastically. In this context of inequality, injustice and refusal to share wealth and responsibilities, UNESCO must continue to work towards being the true conscience of the international community by taking strong action to promote the intellectual and moral solidarity of humanity, the foundation of peace.
With globalization and all the concepts that are emerging or being hatched as this century comes to an end, it is clear that environmental and human rights problems will also be the focus of our concerns in the next millennium. UNESCO’s role consists and will consist in ensuring that all human beings, from early childhood or from primary and secondary level, know their rights and the means of ensuring that they are respected; and that all human beings are also aware of the role of the environment in their lives and demand respect for it. These twin objectives of rights and duties must be included in programmes of literacy and basic education for all throughout life.
These new concepts, which will be developed, will certainly not all bring progress. Will the dynamics of globalization in the field of culture not result in the standardization of behaviour and the way people are, the way they think and act? Will it not hasten the disappearance of minority ethnic groups and indigenous peoples or the loss of their cultural identity?
UNESCO has established itself worldwide as an international organization that is concerned about the protection of the cultural and natural heritage of humanity. It has done a great deal in this field and therefore enjoys indisputable recognition and influence. The fact that it has recently included the protection of the intangible cultural heritage among its concerns is of the utmost importance for the preservation of cultural diversity. Why then should our Organization not consider the safeguarding of minority ethnic groups and indigenous peoples who are under threat today? In the next millennium, UNESCO must therefore continue its struggle for cultural dialogue, multilingualism, cultural diversity and the process of learning to live together in tolerance of differences.
Mr Chairperson, in this brief statement the last challenge which we wish to mention and which the Organization must take up is that of the new information and communication technologies. Owing to their prodigious and spectacular development, they are transporting us from a real world into a virtual world, at a speed that suggests that no one today can say with certainty what they hold in store for us in the next century. On the other hand, what we know already is the abusive and amoral use made of them to cultivate violence, intolerance, racism, xenophobia, paedophilia and other forms of deviant behaviour that offend the human dignity. These harmful phenomena, spread sometimes very widely, by the media, force us to ask the following questions: What kind of children are we raising? What new human race are we creating? What kind of world are we preparing for future generations? What we also know is that these technologies will help to widen the gap between the industrialized countries and those that are far from developed, between those individuals who will be able to use them and those who will become a new breed of illiterates. It will therefore be absolutely necessary to ensure that the means are provided for procuring and for sharing scientific, technical and technological knowledge. The use of this knowledge will also be a constant concern. Consequently, UNESCO will be required to continue and carry further its reflection and activities on ethical issues in the field of information, communication and science, as it already does in the field of biology, in which it plays a pioneering role.
To conclude, let us simply say that UNESCO should, with the support of the Member States and partner international organizations, continue to provide the present generations with more education in order to develop the culture of peace, the culture of solidarity and sharing in order to give future generations more hope. Thank you, Mr Chairperson.
Thank you very much, Mr Tio-Touré.
82. Mr CHETSANGA (Zimbabwe):
Thank you, Mr Chairperson. Zimbabwe joins all its distinguished colleagues in this forum in wishing UNESCO a happy landing in the upcoming new millennium. A forum for reflection like this provides one with an opportunity for presenting one’s vision for the future for UNESCO, which is the intellectual powerhouse of the United Nations system.
83. I wish to begin my reflection by recalling a number of positive features from which UNESCO can derive comfort as we enter the new millennium:
(a) The literacy rate of the world has shown an increase which has been registered to a greater extent in some countries than others.
(b) We enter the twenty-first century with the vestiges of classical colonialism now eliminated. The institutions of governance and democracy still require nurturing and reinforcement.
(c) The new millennium will find the world in the grip of the information revolution. Access to information has enhanced the decision-making process among nations, especially those with good access to information.
(d) There is a heightened sense of man’s desire for peace and a greater appreciation of one’s cultural heritage and these have been well enhanced by UNESCO’s activities.
84. I would like to now recall some negative features that characterize our current era. The new millennium will have to deal with this baggage of negatives.
(a) We enter the twenty-first century before Agenda 21 (Brazil, 1992) has been universally adopted in its totality.
(b) We enter the twenty-first century with the gap between the haves and the have-nots still continuing to widen both with respect to material wealth and access to information.
(c) We enter the twenty-first century with the AIDS pandemic still spreading in both geographical coverage and in the number of fatalities.
(d) We enter the twenty-first century with the United States - today’s major power - still remaining outside UNESCO.
(e) We enter the twenty-first century with a number of armed conflicts still unresolved in such places as Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Angola, Sierra Leone, Iraq and now Kosovo. In fact the number of armed conflicts is still continuing to increase. The guns are not yet silent.
(f) We enter the twenty-first century with ever-increasing populations in developing countries but without an effective global strategy for meeting their food needs.
(g) We enter the twenty-first century with a looming shortage of clean potable water.
(h) We enter the twenty-first century under the dominant force of globalization. It is a world force largely led by the world merchants. It favours the technologically advanced countries whose products are now flooding global markets. It places at a disadvantage developing countries whose industrial base is either non-existent or still at the developing stage. The Third World debt is going to continue to increase.
(i) Lastly, ethical challenges to be addressed in science and technology, in cyberspace, Internet pornography and the biotechnological issues such as the human genome will intensify in the twenty-first century.
85. Zimbabwe’s wish list is to see UNESCO play an even stronger role in promoting the redress of these negative features that dominate the landscape of human existence today. The current Medium-Term Strategy ends in the year 2001. In designing a new Medium-Term Strategy for the years 2002-2007, we hope that instruments to improve the environment, to improve access to information for all, for strengthening democracy, for the elimination of AIDS, for conflict resolution, for ethical considerations and the challenges of building human considerations into globalization will be intimately embraced by UNESCO. I thank you.
86. Mr van HOUTTE (Belgium):
Mr Chairperson, Mr Director-General, dear colleagues, to be more fruitful, the debate on UNESCO in the twenty-first century must be daring. This debate must dare to put basic questions or else it will run the risk of remaining unproductive. Let us therefore not hesitate, in our reflection, genuinely to reassess our Organization, to contemplate even its demise and its virtual reconstruction - so to speak.
The first question to ask is obviously whether UNESCO’s objective of building peace in the minds of men is still relevant. We need only look around us to make our reply - in the affirmative, of course. The next question is whether that objective should be pursued by UNESCO or whether there are other organizations that could do so. If it is a task for UNESCO, then how should it proceed? In which sector should it apply its efforts? In what activities? With what human and financial resources?
A debate that confines itself to what already exists and the preservation thereof (Headquarters staff, outside advisers, field offices, the very large number of projects, etc.) would quite probably be sterile: it would amount to a repetition of the consultation of Member States on the 2000-2001 biennium and its rather meagre and unclear results. Now, the aim is not to think up activities that would make use of a structure and the existing staff; the aim, on the contrary, is to determine clearly what is necessary and can yield tangible results.
After 50 years of UNESCO, on the threshold of the millennium that is the focus of so much attention, that is the kind of radical reflection that we must dare to undertake.
We all know that UNESCO is plagued by several diseases: the dispersion of meagre resources, in both budgetary and personnel terms, over too many activities; weakness of strategic vision in the choice of activities; insufficient evaluation of results; a recruitment policy in need of revision; often unproductive competition with other international organizations; too many media initiatives of no practical utility, etc.
The seriousness of these problems calls for in-depth therapy, beginning with a courageous reappraisal of the Organization, its activities and its resources.
As I have said already, UNESCO’s objective is still valid - to build peace by transforming the way people think, to effect the transition from aggressiveness, lust for power and intolerance to cooperation, solidarity and tolerance. It is clear, and here too I repeat, that such an objective is far from having been achieved in the world, that no world organization other than UNESCO can take up that task and that the best means of working towards that objective is education.
At a pinch, UNESCO could be the United Nations educational organization and it could concentrate all its resources on effective projects in education at all levels with two aims: first, to improve the standard of education and of literacy first and foremost, which in itself fosters mutual understanding, the emergence of democracy and thus peace; secondly, to make education for solidarity and tolerance part of all curricula.
UNESCO’s other activities at present are much less directly related to the promotion of peace. It is therefore necessary, in order to decide whether or not they should be kept in our Organization’s programme, to analyse in depth their contribution to the development of a mindset or a culture of peace, as well as their effectiveness. It will also be necessary to reduce substantially the number of activities pursued, to do less but much better.
Scientific cooperation activities, when they are productive and really contribute to the attainment of UNESCO’s objective, should and could continue to exist and develop. In this category I include, of course, UNESCO’s ethical role with regard to science. When scientific activities are productive but have no bearing on the promotion of peace, they would be continued outside the UNESCO framework.
As to UNESCO’s cultural activities, they suffer from a lack of definition of the concept of “culture” and consequently from being scattered over a large number of projects. In addition, their contribution to the promotion of peace is often unclear.
A people’s culture is the entire set of values to which that people attaches importance. It involves their way of thinking and their way of life. It is basically this meaning of culture that interests UNESCO since our Organization aims precisely to promote values, values that are conducive to peace.
The bulk of UNESCO’s cultural activities must therefore contribute towards disseminating these values of peace. As with scientific activities, it is on the basis of this criterion that the desirability of including them in our Organization’s programmes must be assessed.
Furthermore, to preserve and make known the artistic and intellectual achievements of peoples is also to foster mutual understanding and appreciation and, therefore, peace. From this point of view, the protection of the world heritage is vital.
My last point concerns the practicalities of our debate on UNESCO in the twenty-first century. This debate cannot be confined to the plenary meetings of the Executive Board because this framework does not permit a truly fruitful debate. The establishment of a working group reporting to the Executive Board, with procedures that permit the participation of all interested countries, seems indispensable. I propose that the Board establish such a group. It also seems to me that we should aim at having a discussion during the General Conference at its 30th session and a decision by the General Conference at its 31st session in 2001. Thank you.
101. Ms MICKWITZ (Finland):
Thank you, Mr Chairperson. It is apparent from this discussion that there is widespread agreement that the constitutional mandate of UNESCO has lost none of its relevance and that it will continue to be the firm basis for the work of the Organization in the decades to come.
The means by which the Organization can promote its objectives have, however, partly changed radically. I refer here of course to the development of information and communication technology and to other tools which are available thanks to the development of science and technology in general.
The role of multilateral cooperation has also become more important in the world during the last decade. This development has meant that multilateral organizations, whether they work at the regional or the global level, are faced both with greater challenges but also with greater expectations as regards their performance.
There are a number of issues which are of global importance and which have no national borders. These issues are the observance and development of ethical standards, strengthening respect for human rights, fostering non-violent solutions to conflicts, whether at the individual or at the international level, and promoting sustainable development. All these are obvious tasks for the international community and UNESCO has a role to play in each of these fields. It has taken up the challenge and it should continue to focus on these issues. By doing so and concentrating its activities on its own fields of competence, UNESCO can give valuable guidance to governments. It should also become a centre of excellence in these fields within the United Nations system.
The approach to these issues should be to change security from a military to a human concept.
Working for human rights today means not only respecting these rights but also promoting them actively. The idea of promotion is also well established in the category of civil and political rights, and I refer here to the discussion which we had last autumn in relation to the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration.
In connection with the promotion of human rights, the rights of minorities and of persons belonging to minorities are particularly topical today. Both the rights of minority groups and of indigenous peoples should be underlined in this connection. The active promotion of human rights and peace through education and information activities is a major task for UNESCO in the United Nations system and it has already been underlined by numerous speakers here. These activities should, of course, take place in coordination and cooperation with other United Nations organizations and bodies.
UNESCO should be able to demonstrate to national governments, through various positive examples, that cultural diversity is an enriching factor in any country and that minority cultures should have the possibility to flourish, develop and be respected.
Mr Chairperson, education for human rights and against violence, education for the future, and early intervention systems for the prevention of exclusion through education are important areas where UNESCO can help governments to formulate policies as well as to develop teaching materials and methods. Inclusive education for handicapped children and youth is also an important way to prevent the marginalization of those who are weak in society.
Education for non-violence, Mr Chairperson, is a difficult task today when conflicting values and role models are transmitted by the mass media in practically all parts of the world. Violence grows through marginalization but also as a result of the breakdown of traditional values and social patterns.
The challenges and problems posed by the information society are immense. The concept of the information highways or cyberspace, which are frequently used here in UNESCO, conjure up, however, a too optimistic view of development in this field. New information technology is a whirling paradox. It opens up hitherto unseen vistas of cultural globalization but it leads at the same time to deep gaps between the haves and the have-nots. Information technology is a valuable tool for education and science but it can be severely misused, as we all know, and can also lead to the marginalization of groups, even of nations. We should be aware that this development can easily lead to a new conflict. More research is needed to gain a better understanding of the nature of the information society, the factors shaping its development and the mechanisms of steering and controlling the information society process. The implications of this process are far from being simple and straightforward.
Capacity-building, Mr Chairperson, in the field of information and communication technology, as in respect of the development of capacities in research, is only at a rudimentary level in many parts of the world. UNESCO can, together with international and national funding agencies, help to bridge the gap in this respect while consistently and constantly drawing attention to the ethical and environmental aspects of scientific and technological development.
Mr Chairperson, the water issue is one of the many challenges in the next century. It was referred to here a moment ago by Zimbabwe. This question also leads us to reformulate the concepts of security and independence. It should make us aware of the need for a more equal sharing of resources and knowledge. Water is one of the globally important dimensions of sustainable development and UNESCO has an important role to play in this field.
The promotion of endogenous capacities of Member States in UNESCO’s fields of competence is, in general, a major task for the Organization, it being understood that the main responsibility, however, lies with the governments concerned. UNESCO’s role is also in this respect to help in strategic policy planning and to help in the training of trainers for national purposes.
UNESCO should seek and support viable national partners which can multiply the effect of its work but also provide fresh ideas and test the old ones against existing national realities. National Commissions are privileged partners in this respect, but they can only fulfil their task if truly representative of the educational and scientific constituencies in their countries.
Mr Chairperson, the performance of UNESCO is less physically visible than that of many other international organizations. This is partly due to the very mandate of UNESCO - to build peace in the minds of men. The activities of the Organization do not leave many physically visible traces, nor do they lend themselves to big headlines or become the focus of temporary international interest in the mass media. The result of work in the fields of competence of UNESCO are mainly visible in the long term and at the end of a long process of development. Even so we are convinced that greater efforts could be made to make the work of UNESCO more widely known, as has been proposed by Sweden. Thank you, Mr Chairperson.
117. Mr MASSUH (Argentina):
Thank you, Mr Chairperson, UNESCO quite rightly concerns itself with humanity’s past. It has produced histories of Africa, of Latin America and of the Arab World. It protects historic property and heritage, pays tribute to events and eminent persons of yesteryear and revives heterogeneous cultural traditions. Much of its task involves an extensive exercise of memory, the memory of a human species, it is true, that tends to forget its own nobility.
This interest in the past is legitimate. But one may say that in view of the imminence of the twenty-first century, UNESCO should put the emphasis on understanding the future. That means that we must turn our attention to the unknown and perceive the lines of a time that does not yet exist and has not yet taken definite shape. Those anticipated lines of the future are indispensable to our guidance in the present.
Paul Valéry wrote some 50 years ago that “The future is not what it was”. The great French writer was thereby saying that the future of 50 years ago was different from that of earlier decades, and also different from today’s. The future that we now imagine, that of the next century, is extremely confused, with lowering skies and apocalyptic clouds alternating with sweet visions; cities in ruins would alternate with humanitarian Utopias, great famines would coexist with palaces of abundance. All forecasts are so uncertain that the physiognomy of the new century would seem to prolong the current picture of a civilization having lost its sense of direction. Sometimes the future is such a closed horizon that it disappears from our view. There are desperate people who make do with the miracle that there might be a future.
For these reasons, I consider that the future should be the subject of more intense reflection within UNESCO. It is a topic that is often not in good hands; it is in the hands of soothsayers, prophets of doom or incorrigible Utopians. It is also a subject for entertaining authors of fiction rather than thinkers or visionaries; hard-working ecologists rather than biologists or poets. Our future thus runs the risk of being overwhelmed by the market-driven optimism of technological innovation linked to worldwide industrial gigantism.
It is desirable that UNESCO should contribute towards ensuring that our descendants in the next century do not inherit an Earth that has become a scrap heap or a dump of unrecyclable waste. It is desirable that knowledge should not be impoverished by a wealth of information; that the smart missiles that we see on television do not eventually lead us to believe that the destruction of cities is painless, or that the situation of refugees and the homeless can easily be seen to later. In this and in so many vicissitudes of our time, the look of the future is pure tragedy. Its usual association with adventure, quest and innovation has seemingly been passed over.
UNESCO, with its immense intellectual potential, can help humanity to find new benchmarks, new goals, as it faces a dramatically uncertain future. It must engage in reflection on goals and on the purposes of the human adventure. I say this because much of the most alluring feature of today’s civilization lies in the improvement of means. A powerful network of data, information, services, incentives, advertising and entertainment holds us captive in its worldwide enmeshment. This network is backed by technical wizardry and sophisticated equipment. It is said, quite rightly, that those means have been developed to achieve human beings’ true ends, namely truth, goodness, beauty and sacredness; but the pre-eminence given the means eventually obscures the ends, with the resultant risk that human life might lose its depth and slip into pure banality. Will UNESCO be able, with the new century in mind, open a debate on this theme of the ends and the means? In other words, a discussion on what can be expected from a culture taken over by an instrumental mindset? Will humans become instrument-guided instruments?
UNESCO can be the forum for discussing conflicting images of the future. Little matter whether these images are apocalyptic or pleasant; what does matter is that they should be mutually compared and corrected. It is important that the future should be omnipresent, that it should form a lasting image in our eyes, that it shall permeate our hours in such a manner as to make the immediacy of the distant felt in the most modest routine of daily life. Just as medieval society lived close to the eternal, today’s more mundane people must rescue the future as a protective prospect.
I stress that this task is not foreign to the great tradition of UNESCO, which has always travelled the future and sought creative anticipation of it. I think of UNESCO mainly as an anticipatory body. It was concerned with peace when the wounds of war were still open. It spoke of cultural dialogue when Western hegemony was still intact. It opened the door to different religions at a time when Christianity’s self-esteem was at its height. It protected and used little-known language precisely when a couple of prestigious languages carried great weight. Perhaps, tomorrow, with science in full and arrogant command, UNESCO will encourage dialogue between scientific knowledge and religious knowledge. Perhaps reason and faith will come to terms with each other when reason has rid itself of rationalist arrogance, and faith spurns the lure of the irrational.
I think that UNESCO is opening itself defiantly to the future by opting for a culture of peace and by being sceptical of violence as an instrument of historic change. In one way or another it spreads human brotherhood, the idea of a universal person, and does not spurn the prospect of a world citizenship. These goals are in themselves a good guide through the stormy night upon which note I conclude, Mr Chairperson.
126. Mr QASSEM (United Arab Emirates):
Thank you, Mr Chairperson. Mr Chairperson of the Executive Board, Mr Director-General, Members of the Executive Board, as we begin to reflect on UNESCO in the twenty-first century, I should first like to emphasize the United Arab Emirates’ support for this Organization, which represents humanity’s conscience and creativity, with a view to its continuing to be a focal point of the world community, an international forum with the noble mission of shaping human thought, supporting scientific progress, maintaining world peace and etching its ideals on the minds of all people. Although peace and development are the two main objectives of UNESCO’s programmes and activities, by virtue of its Constitution and its successive strategies, and despite the great efforts made by the Organization for more than half a century to meet these two objectives, it is painfully clear that the number of pockets of tension has increased in different parts of the world, both in the North and in the South, due to the spread of regional and ethnic conflict, soaring violence and terrorism, the worsening of poverty, the widening gap between North and South, the decline of the concept of human rights and the absence of standards making it possible to achieve true justice.
Does this mean that UNESCO has failed to fulfil its basic objective of “contributing to peace and security”, as defined in Article I of its Constitution? To answer this question, an important fact must be borne in mind: UNESCO represents its Member States and its action is simply the result of decisions taken by the Member States. However, the contradiction between what UNESCO undertakes to do and what is actually done is in itself a very serious matter. It is not a question of whether or not UNESCO and the United Nations system have failed. Other factors are involved, notably Member States’ fulfilment of their own commitments. As stated by the Director-General in his Introduction to the Draft Programme and Budget for 2000-2001, only the political will of these States can bring about change, and it is only political measures that can affect the radical changes that are so essential today. However, while I share his opinion, I think that UNESCO can help to strengthen this political will to promote peace and development by continuing to carry out its remarkable work in the fields of education, science and culture. By proposing appropriate methods for education to foster understanding of other people, awareness of the solidarity between human beings and respect for cultural diversity, we can instil in the minds of the younger generations the values and ideals of peace and justice; and by spreading and reinforcing the culture of peace we can establish a dialogue between cultures and civilizations based on mutual respect and equal rights and responsibilities.
By continuing its outstanding work in science and technology, by facilitating the exchange of information and experience between States, UNESCO can reduce the gap between North and South and help developing countries to rise to the challenges and consequences of globalization, which means to acquire the necessary competitive abilities, bases and tools which so many of them are struggling to possess.
Members of the Executive Board, UNESCO must present a more positive image in the international community in terms of the necessity of responding to the real needs of its Member States and its ability to do just this, and become more effective in carrying out its programmes. In this regard, I would like to share with you the ideas of the delegation of the United Arab Emirates which I trust will contribute, along with those of other delegations, to defining a framework for the Organization’s activities over the next century.