19.07.2012 - Natural Sciences Sector

Statement on the UNESCO Chair in Astronomy, Astrophysics and Space Sciences

UNESCO wishes to assuage concerns that have been raised by some individuals and organizations with regard to the establishment of a UNESCO Chair in Astronomy, Astrophysics and Space Sciences.

On March 2, 2012, the UNESCO Director-General signed at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris an agreement between UNESCO and three universities, respectively -- The Islamic University of Gaza, the Al Aqsa University and Al Azhar University -- for the establishment of a UNESCO Chair in Astronomy, Astrophysics and Space Sciences. Hosted at the Islamic University of Gaza, the UNESCO Chair will actively involve all three research institutions in the region.

In taking this decision, UNESCO disassociates itself entirely and firmly from any form of support to initiatives or institutions that may be conducive to terrorism. The Organization will remain fully engaged in ensuring in closely monitoring activities implemented under and by this Chair in order to ensure its continuing commitment to education and peace.

This Chair was established in accordance with UNESCO’s mandate to support collaborative research for lasting peace and sustainable development through cooperation between institutions of higher education. The focus on astronomy, astrophysics and space sciences is integral to UNESCO’s work to promote science education as a motor for the sustainable development of societies – a goal that received full support during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development on 20-22 June 2012, in Rio de Janeiro.

The establishment of a UNESCO Chair is the result of a rigorous review process by UNESCO, along with national and international institutions, to ensure that a proposal is in accordance with UNESCO’s mandate and that it carries international credibility. In this case, the International Astronomical Union expressed strong support, as did other internationally-recognized research institutions in France and South Africa.

The Organization undertakes close monitoring of its Chairs and associated programmes bearing the UNESCO logo, to ensure their continuing conformity with UNESCO’s mandate to build peace in the minds of men through cooperation in the fields of education, the sciences, culture, and information and communication. In addition, UNESCO conducts periodical reviews of its Chairs even after the expiry of formal cooperation with the Organization.

The aim of this Chair is to support science education as a channel for peace in a conflict-affected area and to provide young women and men with peaceful means to reach their full potential beyond and despite their difficult environment, in ways that promote dialogue and cooperation. Experience shows ‘space education’ to be very valuable in stimulating curiosity and developing peaceful cooperation crossing borders.

The current Chair-holder of the UNESCO Chair in Astronomy, Astrophysics and Space Sciences, Dr Suleiman Baraka, is a well-known scientist with an international profile. It is for his distinguished record to promote peace and education, and his consistent stand against violence and terrorism that Dr Baraka was designated as the Chair-holder by the universities. UNESCO has full confidence in the professional capacities of Dr. Suleiman Baraka. We trust his convictions also in the peaceful nature of science education and the need to build bridges of dialogue and cooperation across all divides.

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