Iraq’s Heritage, UNESCO’s Budget, Standard-setting Instruments debated at Executive BoardThe 166th session of UNESCO’s Executive Board closed today at Organization Headquarters after almost two weeks of debates which focussed on the programme and budget for 2004-2005 and were marked by events in Iraq.
Already in her opening address, the Chairperson of the Executive Board, Aziza Bennani, Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Morocco to UNESCO, recalled the Constitution of UNESCO which states that “since wars begin in minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”. She stressed that UNESCO’s programmes aimed “to work for unity and solidarity among peoples and nations” and that these programmes were “founded on the principles of dialogue and complementarity between cultures and civilizations.”
In a resolution adopted today, the Executive Board voiced support for the recent declarations of UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura concerning events in Iraq and expressed support for his actions, in particular, those pertaining to Iraqi heritage preservation. Already at the opening of the session, Mr Matsuura declared that “through the specificity of its mandate, which is to lay the foundations of peace, UNESCO has a unique role to play.” He explained that the Organization was preparing in close cooperation with other United Nations agencies to play its part to the full in the emergency missions that may be required by the situation in Iraq, particularly concerning education and culture.
Mr Matsuura declared: “Culture can play a key role in consolidating the peace process, restoring national unity and building hope for the future.” He requested the coalition troops to protect Iraqi cultural sites and called neighbouring countries, international customs and art dealers to embark on a “comprehensive mobilization so that stolen objects should not find their way to acquirers.”
Experts on Iraqi cultural heritage are due meet to at UNESCO as early as tomorrow morning and the Organization will dispatch a mission to the country in the very near future.
As stressed by the Chairperson of the Board, the 166th session was particularly important as it was to “put the nearly final touch to the Draft Programme and Budget for 2004-2005” which must be submitted for adoption to the 32nd session of the General Conference which will open on September 29, 2003.
The Board recommended a real growth budget with a ceiling of US$610 million for 2004-2005, taking into account the return of the United States to UNESCO. This represents the first real increase, albeit a modest one, in the Organization’s resources in six years. The Organization’s last three budgets, covering that period, were particularly tight. The Director-General said the Board’s recommendation was a “sign of hope, a symbol of confidence by governments in the United Nations system’s capacity to take action.”
During the session, the 58 Member States represented on the Executive Board also examined different documents and draft texts which illustrate UNESCO’s standard-setting role.
The Board examined a status report on the preparation of the preliminary Draft Convention on the Intangible Heritage. There was unanimous support for the idea of a convention within the Board. A third experts meeting on this subject is to be held in June and a draft should be presented to the next session of the General Conference.
Acting on the proposal of several Member States, the Board also examined the feasibility of preparing a standard setting instrument on cultural diversity to complement and extend the effect of UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, adopted in November 2001. The Members of the Board opted for a text aiming to protect the diversity of cultural contents and of the forms of artistic expression disseminated by cultural industries. The subject was included on the agenda of the next session of the General Conference.
Following a proposal made at a Round Table of Ministers of Physical Education and Sport which was held at UNESCO last January, the Board backed the suggested development by the Organization of an international convention against doping in sport and decided to include this on the agenda of next General Conference. Such a convention could be adopted during the 2005 session of UNESCO’s supreme ruling body, just ahead of the Winter Olympics in Turin (Italy).
The preparation of an International Declaration on Human Genetic Data was also discussed by the Board. This text, elaborated by UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee (IBC), seeks to reconcile the freedom of research with respect both for human dignity and privacy. It is presently the subject of an international consultation. Governmental experts will meet to discuss the project next June 25-27, paving the way for its adoption by the next General Conference.
Regarding UNESCO’s activities in the field of communication, the Executive Board endorsed UNESCO’s goal, in the framework of the World Summit on the Information Society (Geneva, December 2003, and Tunis in 2005), of promotion of knowledge societies. The Board also examined the revised Draft Charter on the Preservation of the Digital Heritage, which will be submitted for adoption to the General Conference. The Charter should help Member States prepare national policies with a view to taking responsible action to preserve and give wider access to digital heritage.
Other subjects were also on the agenda. Among them, the Olive Roads project that combines culture and sustainable development. On the subject of water and ecosystems, the Board proposed the creation of a fund for access to drinking water for benefit of countries facing desertification.
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade was invited to speak to the Members of the Executive Board on April 8. He outlined his vision of development for Africa and described a continent wishing to free itself of historic handicaps through the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and welcomed UNESCO’s participation in the accomplishment of the latter’s objectives. He declared, “it is hand in hand with UNESCO that we wage our continent’s war to gain its rightful place in globalization.”
A thematic debate on “Promoting Quality Education” was held on April 7. The Chairperson of the Board said that the choice of subject was born of the realization that “education today must bestow on the learner universal values which have become indispensable, just as it must be characterized by quality and competence and must no longer be viewed from the mere perspective of quantity.” The Board heard Mohammed Arkoun (Scientific Director of the review Arabica and Visiting Professor at the Institute of Ismaili Studies, London; Pierre Kipré, Director of the Institute for Geostrategic Studies for Integration in West Africa; and Wlodzimierz Borodziej, Professor at the History Institute of the University of Warsaw and co-President of the Polish-German Commission for School Text Books.
The next session of the Executive Board will take place from September 15 to 24, just ahead of the 32nd session of the General Conference.