The closing ceremony was held under the high auspices of Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, Chairperson of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development and UNESCO Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education. Also addressing the closing ceremony were former United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Boutros Boutros Ghali, and the President of the Parliamentary Education Committee of Iraq, Dr Alaa Makki.
The Director-General began by paying tribute to Her Highness Sheikha Mozah, who he said “has been unstinting in her efforts to mobilize international support for Iraq”. One of her first acts as UNESCO Special Envoy was to help set up the International Fund for Higher Education in Iraq, with a generous first donation of US$15 million. This has enabled UNESCO and the Qatar Foundation to do much to rebuild education and hope in the country. Her Highness has also spoken out boldly against attacks on the education system, calling on all concerned parties to protect students, educators and places of learning. “Her support for this Conference is yet another sign of her determination to make sure that all Iraqis have safe access to learning opportunities”, Mr Matsuura said.
Turning to the main recommendations of the Conference, Mr Matsuura drew attention to five key areas where the international community must reinforce its support to national education efforts in Iraq: “Access to quality basic education for all Iraqis is the first and most fundamental goal. Second, the Iraqi higher education sector must be thoroughly rebuilt. Third, the protection of Iraqi intellectuals, academics, teachers, students and educational institutions is an absolute moral priority. This is a universal concern. Globally, systems to monitor compliance with the existing norms of international law that forbid attacks on schools and teachers must be strengthened. Fourth, special provision must be made for the education of internally displaced persons within Iraq. Finally, the international community must support the governments of nations hosting large numbers of Iraqi refugees in the region, notably Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, to help refugee children to enrol and succeed at school in their countries of asylum. Together, these recommendations set out a strong agenda for action. It is our collective responsibility to ensure they are carried forward and implemented”.
Mr Matsuura said that UNESCO would do all it could to ensure support to Iraq and to bring the education needs of the country to the attention of the international community. “As coordinator of the global drive to achieve Education for All, UNESCO shall maintain its vigorous defence of the right to education wherever it is threatened”.
In her special address, Her Highness Sheikha Mozah underscored that it would be impossible to achieve either the EFA goals or the MDGs without much greater attention to the needs of crisis-affected countries. She lamented the lack of international action in this regard. She also referred to the strong plea for renewed global solidarity in support of students and educators in conflict situations, which she had made at the UNESCO meeting on financing education for the MDGs, held in New York in late September (see Flash Info N°125-2008**).
Her Highness Sheikha Mozah called for the international community to vigorously monitor and document all violations of the human right to education. She also urged that a committee be established to follow-up the recommendations of the Conference, saying that Doha stands ready to welcome the first meeting at the earliest opportunity. “The international community must act to protect education with the same urgency and determination it has shown in response to the financial crisis”, Her Highness stated in closing.
On 30 November 2008, Her Highness will preside a special event co-organized with UNESCO on funding for education in situations of fragility, which is to be held alongside the Doha Conference on Financing for Development in Qatar.