The Director-General convenes a special session of the UNESCO Middle East Task Force to discuss UNESCO’s response to the crisis in Lebanon

On 31 July, Koďchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, convened a Special Session of the UNESCO Task Force on the Middle East to discuss the current crisis in Lebanon.

The aim of the meeting was to co-ordinate UNESCO’s response to the current situation and to prepare the Organization’s contribution to future recovery and reconstruction efforts by the Lebanese authorities.

In his opening remarks the Director-General joined the United Nations Secretary-General in calling for a way out of the crisis referring to the three pillars of the UN position expressed by the Secretary-General, namely, a cessation of hostilities, a political framework which includes the deployment of an international force, and agreement on a reconstruction programme. Mr Matsuura expressed his “deep concern about the escalation of violence and the tragic loss of human life”, and urged for “preparedness to assist the Lebanese authorities in early recovery and reconstruction efforts.”

The Director-General then took stock of UNESCO’s recent actions and outlined the way forward. “I have offered my condolences to the Prime Minister of Lebanon and shared with him my hopes of finding a sustainable peaceful resolution to the present situation and expressed my support to assist the country in our fields of competence when hostilities cease,” he stated.

“In my communications with Governmental authorities, I have clearly stated UNESCO’s unique role in post-conflict recovery and reconstruction. At this stage, where UN support is of a strictly humanitarian nature, UNESCO has to gear up its preparations so that it will be able to provide specialized assistance in education, culture, communication and information and the sciences,” said Mr Matsuura.

Regarding the protection of cultural heritage potentially at risk during the present crisis, in particular the World Heritage Sites of Baalbek and Tyre, Mr Matsuura stated that, “we paid special attention with the Israeli and Lebanese Governments to underscore their respective responsibilities concerning 1954 Hague Convention. This provides for the safeguarding of cultural property in times of armed conflict. UNESCO will continue to follow this matter closely.”

Concerning the safety of media professionals, the Director-General referred to UNESCO’s recent press release on the need to respect the civilian status of journalists and media organizations; “in times of violent conflict it is essential for all parties to respect the important role the media play,” he said. (See Press Release N°2006-88)

The Assistant-Directors General responsible for UNESCO’s domains of competence then offered future lines of action for consideration. In the field of education, the pressing need for an early assessment of the educational system and conditions necessary to secure children’s and teacher’s safety, was highlighted.

In the field of culture, once the cessation of hostilities occurs, the priority will be to evaluate damage to the affected cultural heritage sites and monuments, in particular World Heritage Sites, and to enhance means of their protection, including countering – as necessary – the looting of cultural property at archaeological sites.

The need to address the environmental impact of the conflict was another area highlighted, including co-ordinating with other relevant agencies on specific environmental damage. UNESCO has a close relationship with the scientific community of Lebanon. Therefore, to mitigate the potential of brain drain post conflict, UNESCO will work on identifying ways to build and strengthen professional networks in order to support those communities in reconstruction.

It is too early to assess the damage to the media infrastructure in Lebanon but UNESCO will continue to monitor this area to make appropriate plans to support reconstruction efforts.

The Director of the Beirut Office then informed the meeting of the steps being taken to ensure the safety of international staff and presented a situation report. The decision was taken to relocate the international staff to Cairo, Egypt, while plans were developed for the Director of the Office to maintain regular contact with national staff.

Prior to this crisis, UNESCO established a roster of qualified staff members to carry out short missions in post-conflict countries. 27 staff members are now trained on individual safety and preparedness, adaptation in transitional contexts and post-conflict reconstruction. This resource will be taken into consideration in terms of strengthening the Organization’s post-conflict response.

Based on the above proposals, Mr Matsuura highlighted the urgency of UNESCO participation in the UN response to the Lebanon crisis. “Although the focus of the UN response is now on humanitarian emergency assistance, I trust UNESCO will be able to participate very soon, in its fields of competence, and along with the other UN agencies, in the overall recovery and reconstruction process.”

“I personally have high hopes,” he stated, “that the initiatives we have discussed today, such as an early assessment of the impact of the crisis on the educational system as well as of the potential damage which has affected cultural heritage in Lebanon, will be a significant and positive contribution to the reconstruction and development effort of the United Nations System in Lebanon”.

The Director-General will convene the next meeting of the UNESCO Task Force on the Middle East in one months time to discuss the latest developments, update planning and prepare for future initiatives.

  • Author(s):Office of the Spokeswoman
  • Source:Flash info n°125-2006
  • 02-08-2006
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