Presidents of Afghanistan and Germany celebrate human dignity at special 60th anniversary session of General ConferencePresident Hamid Karzai, of Afghanistan and President Horst Köhler of Germany today addressed UNESCO’s General Conference, during a special session to mark the 60th anniversary of the Organization, which was dedicated to human dignity.
The Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, welcomed the two Heads of State of “two great nations, each of which, 60 years apart, made the difficult but necessary choice of peace, reconciliation and concord.” He called for dialogue and vigilance in face of all contemporary offences against human dignity.” The Director-General said that dialogue and vigilance entail “that we work, all together, to fight for the promotion of human rights and basic liberties for the safeguard of the common heritage of humanity and of the biosphere, for respect for the universal principle of justice, and that we lead a constant struggle against all forms of discrimination [...]”
The Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and UNESCO Choir, conducted by Eliahu Inbal, went on to perform Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, which is listed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.
The President of the General Conference, Musa Bin Jaafar Bin Hassan (Oman) and the Chairman of the Executive Board, Hans-Heinrich Wrede (Germany) then welcomed the presidents of Germany and Afghanistan. The President of the General Conference praised the contribution of Germany to the work of UNESCO and to the struggle for solidarity in the international community. He saluted Afghanistan’s march towards freedom and democracy since President Karzai took office and welcomed the success of elections recently held in the country. The Chairman of the Board for his part, insisted on the importance of UNESCO’s work, particularly in the field of education.
President Horst Köhler of Germany took the floor recalling that the United Nations and UNESCO were founded to ensure that horrors such as those perpetrated by the National Socialists in the 1930s and 40s were not repeated. “Today, as we know,” he argued, “humanity has not been liberated from the scourge of war and human dignity remains threatened in many ways: by poverty and underdevelopment, terrorism and oppression.”
President Köhler insisted on the force of law of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and stressed that “all political action must be judged by whether it helps people to lead their lives in dignity. That applies across the board,” he said, “from the policies of the industrialized nations to the reform efforts of the developing countries, from world trade policy to international efforts to protect the environment and to bioethics.”
“We respect human dignity,” the President said, “because we respect people’s capacity to decide for themselves what they want to make of their lives. In so doing, they should be neither selfish nor high-handed, but bear in mind the community of which they and others are part. It is this mutual responsibility among people that underpins culture.”
President Köhler finally emphasized the value of cultural diversity for the well being of the international community. “A strong and self-confident culture gives the individual inner strength and a sense of direction.” He went on to explain that “people are keenly aware of this and that is why they are increasingly mindful of their cultural identity: the legacy that has shaped them, distinguishes them from others and made them what they are. […] This does not mean they are running away from, or putting up barriers against anything. […]. Cultural diversity is important for individuals, it helps them find their place in the world and enables them to engage the world and have the inner strength and composure to set out into the world.”
In the final part of his address, the German President warned that a cultural community that feels threatened will offer resistance. “It will retreat into isolation and become increasingly rigid. It will restrict the freedoms of its members and in its dealings with others be quick to take offence. Fear, anguish and confusion can easily turn into aggression.”
“That is why it is so crucial to strengthen our cultures’ sense of inner confidence and also their respect for other cultures,” President Köhler declared, advocating a world of partnership between cultures that would be beneficial to individuals and communities in developed and developing countries alike. “It is in this way that globalization can best help people everywhere lead the life they want, free from poverty, respected, in a culturally diverse world.”
President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan addressed the session immediately after President Köhler. He recalled the promise that underpinned the creation of the United Nations and UNESCO “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” Speaking of the Organization’s work in education, science, culture – notably cultural heritage – and communication the president said: “There are few, if any, parts of the world, which do not benefit in some way from UNESCO’s expertise, knowledge and assistance. […] The aims and purpose of UNESCO are as valid today as they were sixty years ago. However, a fresh appraisal is needed of the work that UNESCO is asked to do, and consideration must be given, and with some urgency, to the enormous challenges and obstacles that we now face.”
“We live in a world where senseless and brutal violence is still practiced, and where as a result human values, dignity and rights are disregarded,” President Karzai said, adding: “I speak with feeling on this matter since I come from a country where mothers, fathers and children have all been the victims of inhuman acts of terrorism, and where people still suffer the ignoble consequences of decades of war.”
Listing the many forms of suffering and destruction wreaked by the violence in Afghanistan, President Karzai pointed out, “it is not only in Afghanistan that such things have happened. In many other countries in today’s world examples can be found, and each one is a flagrant challenge to the work of UNESCO.”
President Karzai thanked UNESCO and its Director-General “for the generous, moral, material and technical assistance provided to Afghanistan in the last few years and at a time when help was so badly need. This,” he said, “enabled millions of children, both boys and girls to go to school in all parts of Afghanistan. It has helped us to make strenuous efforts to preserve our rich cultural heritage [… ]. We are making great strides towards the establishment of a stable democracy, have adopted a new Constitution, both men and women have been given the right to vote, and the freedom of speech and press have been guaranteed to all. We have done what we could to restore human dignity to all our people […].”
The President insisted on the important role played by the international community in making this work and declared: “We come here not only to ask for your help, but also to give you what we are able to offer. UNESCO is the great meeting place of those who give and those who receive.”
Today’s special session marked the celebration of UNESCO’s 60th anniversary by the General Conference and was one of a series of events planned over the next 12 months.
Photo thumbnail © UNESCO/Michel Ravassard: President Karzai
Photo inside © UNESCO/Michel Ravassard: President Karzai and President Köhler.