Leaders from around the world today gathered at UNESCO to denounce terrorism and express determination to work with the Organization to promote dialogue, education and the safeguarding of cultural heritage in its diversity. The leaders had come to Paris for the 70th anniversary of UNESCO and took part in an event that was marked by mourning for the victims of the terrorist attacks that struck the French capital on 13 November.
The event took place as part of the 38th session of the General Conference of UNESCO, the governing body that brings together representatives of all of the Organization’s Member States, which will close on 18 November.
The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, reiterated the Organization’s solidarity with France and the victims of terror everywhere when she introduced an evening programme that featured a performance by the World Orchestra for Peace, which has been designated UNESCO Artist for Peace.
“Paris embodies what the extremists hate and fear most of all; a city of light, a free city in a free country, France that has a passion for debate and for things of the mind. The extremists are afraid of culture. They are afraid of history, of cultural diversity and of the freedom it represents, the freedom to live and to think. This is why they have destroyed Palmyra, Mosul and Hatra. This is why they attack journalists, religious communities and people’s ability to live together,” the Director-General said.
The Director-General paid tribute to the artists of the World Orchestra for Peace, who did not hesitate to come and perform in Paris. “Each of you insisted on being here tonight, in this city of light, in the city of music, in the city of life. Together, tonight, we stand united. To pay homage to the victims of these attacks. To express our sympathy, our solidarity, our support to their friends and families, to the people of France, to women and men everywhere.”
The musical performance was followed by a projection on the buildings of UNESCO’s Headquarters of a light show designed as a statement to those in Paris and around the world that UNESCO stands true of its Constitution, adopted 70 years ago today, to build peace in the minds of women and men, a brief that is more relevant today than ever before.
Speaking at the opening of the Leaders’ Forum earlier in the day, the President of UNESCO’s General Conference, Stanley Mutumba Simataa declared, “notwithstanding the tragic events of last Friday, we are gathered here today, as nations under the banner of UNESCO, on our 70th anniversary, to proclaim to the world that the human spirit shall never be suppressed. That humanity’s yearning for peace, tolerance and mutual coexistence must be resurrected.”
The Presidents of Bulgaria, Cameroon, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Lithuania, and the Acting Head of State of Libya all spoke of the key role of UNESCO in countering extremism in their region.
President Rosen Plevneliev of Bulgaria declared, “the ideology of terrorism cannot be defeated by weapons” and argued that, “it could be defeated by better ideas, education and tolerant societies.” […] Only by uniting against this global menace, we will win this fight,” he said.
“The war against terrorism concerns every nation that ranks respect for the human person and life among its core values. It is incumbent on every nation to make its contribution,” declared President Paul Biya of Cameroon, proclaiming his country’s support for “UNESCO’s humanistic ideal, the ultimate goal of which is to promote human development and harmony between peoples.”
Libya’s acting Head of State Agila Saleh Essa Gwaider, spoke of the suffering of the people of Libya at the hands of terrorist bands and emphasized “the importance that Libya accords to cultural diversity, inter-religious dialogue and a culture of peace.” He insisted on the leading role of UNESCO in tackling the problems the world is facing today and appealed for greater support for the Organization.
Referring to the spread of terrorism and instability, Lithuania’s President, Dalia Grybauskaitė, stressed that “radicalism and hate flourish where education fails,” and called for increased international efforts to promote peace, human rights and democracy. “Lasting peace, sustainable development and eradicating poverty all depend on access to education,” she added.
Gjorge Ivanov, President of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, said, “this Forum today is a response to terrorism and the enemies of diversity. We should not allow terrorism to take over peace, freedom and justice,” and called on the Organization “to help restore global order and substitute monologue with dialogue, particularly intercultural and interreligious dialogue”.
The Leaders’ Forum will continue tomorrow afternoon (3 to 5 pm) with addresses by the vice prime minister, foreign minister of the Slovak Republic and the presidents of Azerbaijan, Malta and France.