UNESCO Director-General appeals for immediate release of Iraqi researchersThe Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, has urgently appealed for the release of dozens of people kidnapped today from two departments of Iraq’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.
“I call on the hostage-takers to release their captives immediately,” Mr Matsuura said. “These people are innocent. They must be freed, safe and sound.”
Mr Matsuura was speaking from Cairo, where he is attending the annual meeting of the High Level Group on Education for All, which brings together education ministers, officials and experts to assess progress towards the provision of quality education for all.
“Iraq needs its intellectuals and academics now more than ever,” Mr Matsuura said. “But over recent months they – and the education system as a whole - have been deliberately targeted in a campaign of bloodshed and violence being waged by people whose sole aim is to prevent Iraq’s reconstruction as a peaceful, prosperous and democratic nation.
“The international community, working with the Iraqi authorities, must deploy all possible means to bring this intolerable situation to an end,” the Director-General added.
Iraq’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research has confirmed to UNESCO that between 100 and 150 men at the Departments of Scholarships and Culture and Reconstruction – from both the Sunni and Shia communities - were abducted by a group of insurgents thismorning. The hostages include staff and visitors. Unconfirmed reports claim that about 50 were released early in the afternoon.
According to the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education, at least 155 education professionals have been killed in Iraq since 2003.