18.11.2013 -

Irina Bokova’s second term as Director-General of UNESCO: A pledge for new humanism

© UNESCO/Fabrice GentileIrina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General

Irina Bokova took the oath of office as the Director-General of UNESCO for a second term of 4 years. The ceremony occurred in a plenary session of the General Conference at the Organization’s Headquarters in Paris, in the presence of 195 Member States.

“UNESCO is here to remind us that lasting peace and sustainable development are two sides of the same coin, there can be no peace without poverty eradication, no poverty eradication without peace,” said Irina Bokova in her acceptance speech.

Elected for a first term on 15 November 2009, Irina Bokova is the first woman to head the Organization. Her initial mandate was marked by a major reform of UNESCO, to make the Organization more efficient and relevant to challenges facing peace and development today, in a world of diversity that is increasingly interdependent. Addressing the Member States, Irina Bokova said, “The oath that I have just taken is a pledge for humanism. Human creativity is our great strength, a bottomless wellspring, whose power we must unleash. This is UNESCO’s humanist mission, and it has guided me in everything I have done.”

Hao Ping, President of the 37th Session of the General Conference, commended her leadership: “You have overseen a time in which UNESCO has been at the forefront of education in developing countries, supporting teacher training and education for all in some of the most underprivileged areas of the world. The Organization has worked tirelessly to protect cultural heritage sites, notably in Mali this year, and to ensure that the cost of development will not be measured in the loss of culture, history and diversity.  We are approaching another milestone in the development discourse and I am delighted to see that you will be leading the Organization in this important endeavor – the hope of all nations.”

The Director-General’s re-election has been “a true vote of confidence in your ability to execute the mandate of this august House for the next four years,” affirmed Alissandra Cummins, Chairperson of the Executive Board, in her congratulatory remarks. She highlighted the Director-General’s “leadership and determination in bringing the importance of culture to the global development agenda. “Your passionate advocacy for culture as a catalyst for sustainable development will eventually be recognized as an important legacy for the United Nations – a legacy of enabling the international community to finally address a much neglected gap in humanity’s push for progress, under the rightful stewardship of UNESCO.”

With words came music.  The American jazz singer Nicole Slack-Jones lit up the house with an acapella version of the Louis Armstrong classic “What a Wonderful World”. 

Three exceptional personalities – Abdel Rahmane Ben Essayouti (Imam of the Djingareyber Mosque in Timbuktu, Mali), Estela Barnes de Carlotto (President of the Argentinian Association “Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, laureate of the UNESCO Félix Houphouët-Boigny peace Prize 2011), and Homi K. Bhabha (Director of the Humanities Center at Harvard; recipient of the 2012 Padma Bushshan award) – emphasized UNESCO’s important role and action in the fields of Education, Science, Culture and Communication.

Abdel Rahmane Ben Essayouti said, “UNESCO had promised to rebuild, and UNESCO is fulfilling its promise. We can again quickly organize ceremonies of procession of our Saints, rebuild our mausoleums and mosques; rehabilitate libraries of manuscripts. Thanks to UNESCO, the international community remained mobilised with us. Mme Bokova, your courageous decision to personally come to Timbuktu to realize how the situation of our heritage was, have brought comfort and hope, and showed us your deep engagement with us.”

Estela Barnes de Carlotto said, “Your solidarity and commitment to humanitarian causes have placed you as one of the leading voices on these issues worldwide. Your work in UNESCO has facilitated and sponsored the creation of the “Centro Internacional para la Promoción de los Derechos Humanos”.

The Director-General’s vision of a new humanism is the inspiration of Homi K. Bhabha’s speech. “Let the new humanism define the horizon of our shared history and our collective morality.”

UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, A’Salfo, and his music group Magic System, closed the ceremony with an exuberant performance of “Bouger, Bouger”, (Move it, Move it) the hit single that topped charts throughout the world.




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