SIGNIFICANT INITIATIVES AND
ADVANCES MARKING THE
161ST EXECUTIVE BOARD SESSION
Paris, June 14 (No.2001-78)-
The 161st session of UNESCO’s Executive Board, chaired by Sonia Mendieta de
Badaroux (Honduras), ended yesterday after having agreed on a refocused
programme which constitutes a significant advance in the Organization’s reform
and several major initiatives notably aiming to protect cultural diversity and
the heritage of humanity, as well as to help reconciliation in the Middle East.
An initiative launched by
Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura at the opening of the session aiming to
start the joint revision of Israeli and Palestinian school textbooks was
accepted by both parties. UNESCO announced it was prepared to provide the
framework for this initiative of reconciliation.
The session of the Executive
Board lifted the last reservations regarding the drafting of a Declaration on
cultural diversity. Representatives of Member States stressed the fact that
UNESCO should provide them with principles and reference points to guide States
in the design of their cultural policies and in negotiations within other
organizations, including the World Trade Organization. To prepare the first
draft of this standard-setting instrument - which many Delegates said should be
“positive and flexible” rather than “defensive and protectionist” - the
Board decided to create an open working group which will start meeting on June
The Board confirmed the
importance given by UNESCO to the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.
Despite the difficulties inherent to this heritage which is difficult to define,
a first step was recently taken with the first proclamation by the Organization
of a list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
This initiative will be continued with the development of an international
standard-setting instrument designed to protect traditional and popular culture.
This new instrument will be comparable to the 1972 UNESCO Convention concerning
cultural and natural world heritage sites.
Members of the Executive Board
strongly condemned the acts of destruction committed against historical and
cultural monuments in Afghanistan and some even considered the possibility of
imposing sanctions. The examination of means to prevent such acts, qualified as
“crimes against the common heritage of humanity”, will figure on the agenda
of the next General Conference in the autumn.
During the session, the
Executive Board discussed for the first time in a public session a case of
alleged human rights violation. The holding of a public session, instead of the
usual closed meeting, was due to the lack of progress in UNESCO’s discrete
intercession with the government of Lao People’s Democratic Republic on behalf
of a political prisoner, Latsami Khamphoui, a former Deputy Minister for
Economics and Planning. Mr Khamphoui is serving a 14-year prison sentence for
having criticised his government. He has been in jail since 1990 and is reported
to be seriously ill.
Notable decisions adopted by
the Executive Board include the proposal to establish the UNESCO-IHE Institute
for Water Education. It entails transforming the International Institute for
Infrastructural Hydraulic and Environmental Engineering in Delft (Netherlands)
into a UNESCO Institute which will contribute to improving the dissemination and
sharing of knowledge concerning water. This marks an innovative partnership with
a private foundation already working with numerous institutions and
The Executive Board examined at
length the draft Medium Term Strategy that will guide the Organization over the
coming six years. The Strategy, the cornerstone of the reform of UNESCO’s
programmes undertaken by Mr Matsuura, seeks to focus the Organization’s four
major programmes around a common theme - contributing to peace and human
development in an era of globalization through education, the sciences, culture
and communication - with a reduced number of defined strategic results.
The Board also examined the
draft Programme and Budget for 2002-2003 totalling US$544 million. This
Programme and Budget reflects the decision to set a small number of clear
priorities. Five main priorities have been determined - basic education, water
resources, the ethics of science and technology, cultural diversity, equitable
access to information and knowledge. They received added funding with increases
ranging from close to 30% to 50%. The overall budget of the Organization is
particularly tight and reflects savings of US$26 million and the cutting of some
200 posts at Headquarters.
In her closing address, Ms
Mendieta de Badaroux commended the reform of UNESCO saying the Organization was
changing for the better. The Chairperson went on to stress the importance of the
thematic debate on the role of the new information technologies for the
development of education, science, and culture which was held during the
session. She said it “highlighted the scope of marginalization in developing
countries”. She called on UNESCO to be proactive by “introducing, and
effectively utilizing new methodologies in teaching” to fight poverty and
bridge the digital divide and, also, so as to prepare the Organization for the
2003 summit on the new information technologies.