The Director-General addresses the Copenhagen Conference on “Education for Intercultural Understanding and Dialogue”

The Director-General addresses the Copenhagen Conference on “Education for Intercultural Understanding and Dialogue”
  • © Hasse Ferrold

On 21 October 2008, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, participated in the high-level inaugural segment of the Copenhagen Conference on “Education for Intercultural Understanding and Dialogue”, which he co-chaired with the Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Per Stig Møller.

Also participating in the ceremony were: Mr Jorge Sampaio, former President of the Republic of Portugal and High Representative for the UN Alliance of Civilizations; Mr Angel Moratinos, Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs; Mr Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference; Mr Mongi Bousnina, Director-General of The Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO); Mr Najib Rhiati, Director of Culture and Communication of The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO); Mr Gabrielle Mazza, Director of School, Out-of-School and Higher Education, Council of Europe; Mr André Azoulay, President of the Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for the Dialogue between Cultures; Ms Sima Bahous, Assistant Secretary-General for Social Affairs, Arab League; and Mr Omar Hilal, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Morocco.

Organized in follow-up to the 2005 Rabat Conference on “Fostering Dialogue among Cultures and Civilizations through Concrete and Sustained Initiatives”, the Copenhagen Conference brought together some 140 experts to take stock of developments in the implementation of the Rabat Commitment and its Action Plan, and chart new avenues and initiatives in support of the Rabat and the Copenhagen Conference objectives.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Mr Matsuura explained that as “the UN agency with a specific mandate in the fields of education and culture, UNESCO believes that education is a powerful vehicle for achieving international development goals and building peace. To realize this objective, we need to educate citizens of all countries to be open to other ways of thinking and being.”

“This conviction takes on particular resonance in 2008, as we commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” he continued, referring in particular to the Declaration’s proclamation that education is to be directed to “the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” […] “This Conference’s focus on education is therefore extremely apt […]. Education can be a powerful vehicle for dialogue, helping to eliminate cultural stereotypes, build mutual understanding and respect, and strengthen social cohesion.”

Referring to the reaffirmation by UNESCO’s Member States, through their Executive Board, of “the complex and multi-dimensional character of this issue”, the Director-General explained that UNESCO had been tasked to “develop innovative modalities of action, for the purpose of furthering mutual understanding and respect for all people’s religious and cultural values, and for freedom of expression.” Mr Matsuura said that the experts’ discussions in Copenhagen would contribute towards the development of these modalities.

In closing, the Director-General underscored that “education is at the heart of who we are and what we aspire to for our children. In our dreams of a world free from conflict, injustice and poverty, it is crucial that we turn our attention to how we instil the skills for dialogue, tolerance and mutual understanding. We owe it to our children and to the future peace of our societies to make sure this happens.”

At the conclusion of the high-level inaugural ceremony, the Director-General presented, on behalf of the two Co-chairs, a ten point summary of the salient points made during this segment of the meeting*. Mr Matsuura and Minister Møller also held a press conference before the meeting was broken up into expert Working Groups.

Upon his arrival in Copenhagen the previous evening, the Director-General met Mr Bertel Haarder, Danish Minister of Education and Nordic Cooperation, together with representatives of the Ministries of Sciences and Culture, and DANIDA, to discuss the status of UNESCO’s cooperation with Denmark.

Mr Matsuura expressed his appreciation for Denmark’s active support for UNESCO and its programmes, highlighting in particular the country’s generous extra-budgetary support to the Organization. Mr Matsuura paid tribute to Denmark’s role in the ‘Education for All’ process and encouraged the authorities to ratify UNESCO’s 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage and the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Ambassador Ulrik Vestergaard Knudsen, Permanent Delegate of Denmark to UNESCO, accompanied the Director-General throughout his visit.

  • Author(s):Office of the Spokesperson
  • Source:Flash Info N° 141-2008
  • 23-10-2008
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