Onwards and Upwards – UNESCO in 2013

2012 is coming to an end. It was marked by profound changes across the world, and it will remain for UNESCO a turning point year, focussed on pursuing deep reform and handling an unprecedented financial situation.

We took on both challenges by focusing on action and delivery and thanks to the support of Member States and the commitment and hard work of the whole UNESCO team.

Today, UNESCO’s messages stand at the front of the global agenda -- from protecting cultural world heritage in Mali, Syria, and Libya and promoting the safety of journalists to advancing quality education for inclusive growth, gender equality and fostering lasting peace in Africa and beyond.

We must be ever more committed and united to take our vision forward. Our new Medium-Term Strategy is a historic opportunity to strengthen the foundations of all our efforts to build a new UNESCO, a more modern Organization – the UNESCO we want.

Major events in 2012

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18 Dec: First Arabic Language Day

"World Arabic Language Day is an opportunity for us to celebrate the language of
22 Member States of UNESCO, a language with more than 422 million speakers in
the Arab world and used by more than 1.5 billion Muslims," said the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova in her message on the occasion of the first World Arabic Language Day.

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10 Dec: Stand up for Malala -- Stand up for girls’ right to education!

“Whenever and wherever a young girl is forbidden from going to school, it’s an attack against all girls, against the right to learn, the right to live life to the full; and it is unacceptable,” declared UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova in an official manifestation of support for Malala.

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10 Dec: Human Rights Day 2012

On the occasion of the Human Rights Day 2012, UNESCO's Director-General Irina Bokova and the Mayor of the City of Bilbao Mr Iñaki Azkuna have paid tribute to the life-long commitment of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, laureate of the 2012 UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights, to building a universal culture of human rights through his courageous and non-violent activism in favour of a world free from fear and hunger, in which fundamental freedom of opinion and expression, worship and participation in public life are guaranteed for all.

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19 Nov: High Panel on Peace and Dialogue among Cultures

“This is a moment for debate about a key issue for lasting peace and sustainable development today – how to engage young people and to empower them to lead the world towards greater justice, stability and inclusive development." said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova at the 3rd meeting of the High Panel on Peace and Dialogue among Cultures held on 19 November in UNESCO Headquarters. The theme of the debate was “Building Peace: UNESCO’s role in the next decade” – with special emphasis on engaging youth in building sustainable peace and societies.

The Director-General underlined the importance of this meeting at a time during which UNESCO is also elaborating its future Medium-Term Strategy for 2014-2021. More

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16 Oct: EFA Global Monitoring Report - Youth and Skills

The Director-General launched the 2012 edition of the EFA Global Monitoring Report with an appeal to fix the youth skills deficit through additional financing, more programmes to train young people who have missed out on an education and new partnerships between the public and private sector.

"The price societies pay for raising children without basic skills is unacceptably high. This violates individual dignity and human rights. It undermines growth and tills the soil of unrest," said Irina Bokova. "Education is the best investment in the societies we want, in the economies we need. The Report estimates that every $1 you spend on a child's education yields $10 to $15 in economic growth over that person's working life time," noting the urgent need to put education at the top of the political agenda, the goal of the UN Secretary-General's Education First Initiative. Read full text

Press release: Twenty percent of young people in developing countries fail to complete primary school and lack skills for work

Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2012 - Youth and Skills: Putting education to work

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11 Oct: First International Day of the Girl Child

This first International Day of the Girl Child is a groundbreaking moment to raise awareness about enduring discrimination and to mobilise stronger action for human rights.

Across the world, girls carry the heaviest burden of poverty, marginalisation and violence. Their rights are violated through early marriages, active discrimination and lack of opportunity. For far too many, being born a girl remains a lifelong sentence to inequality and injustice. This violates basic rights and holds back communities and societies from sustainable development.

Education is the most powerful way to break this vicious circle. Education gives girls tools to shape the world according to their aspirations. It can delay early marriages and help with family planning. It provides strong medicine against disease and ill-health. There is simply no better investment a society can make than in the rights of girls. The impact ripples far beyond individuals to take in the health and wellbeing of societies well into the future.

Director-General's message on the occasion of the first International Day of the Girl Child

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11 Oct: Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity

The 47-member United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council has adopted for the first time a resolution on the importance of the safety of journalist as a fundamental element of freedom of expression. Resolution A/HRC/21/L6 adopted by consensus as orally revised, stresses the need to ensure better cooperation and coordination at the international level with regard to ensuring the safety of journalists, and invites UN agencies, Member States and all relevant stakeholders to cooperate further in the implementation of the UN Plan of Action on The Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, elaborated by UNESCO and endorsed by the UN System Chief Executive Board for Coordination in April 2012.

The Director-General welcomes the endorsement of this resolution, which constitutes an important step in UNESCO’s efforts to join forces to put an end to violence against journalists. “This resolution is a major step forward. It is also a recognition of the hard work of UNESCO on this critical issue. Journalists too often pay with their lives the right to work and to inform. Everyday brings alarming news on the safety of journalists in countries affected by conflicts, but not only. This must stop. We must continue to speak out to ensure the safety of journalist and the free flow of information.” stated the Director General. More 

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26 Sept: Launch of Education First Initiative

“This is the first time that a United Nations Secretary-General has made education a priority. It is an historic decision that recognizes the power of education to transform lives and build more sustainable, peaceful and prosperous societies. I am proud that the Secretary-General turned to UNESCO to play a lead role in shaping this Initiative and taking it forward.” Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General

Launched on 26 September 2012, Education First is a five-year initiative sponsored by Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations. A global advocacy platform at the highest level, it aims to generate a renewed push to achieve the internationally-agreed education goals set for 2015 and get the world back on track to meeting its education commitments.

Op-ed: Putting Education First - Al-Hayat (in Arabic)

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14 Sept: 20th anniversary of the Memory of the World Programme

The Memory of the World Programme was established by UNESCO in 1992 to meet the challenges of protecting endangered documentary heritage. At that time, much of the world's documentary heritage was in a poor state of preservation, which was worsened by war and social upheaval, lack of resources, and ignorance of the importance of this heritage. Across the globe, significant collections have been destroyed as a result of looting or dispersal, illegal trading, destruction, and inadequate storage facilities and budgets.

The Memory of the World Programme serves as UNESCO's flagship activity to promote and protect archives, libraries and museum collections worldwide so that they can be consulted by later generations. Through a wide network of experts, mechanisms have been adopted that foster the exchange of information and promote the key work of preservation and access to documentary material.

These objectives are fundamental to UNESCO, since guaranteeing the continuity of documentary heritage helps to ensure the survival of memory, build the basis of truth and support human rights. This continuity is evidenced in the many items listed on the Memory of the World Register,  which includes, among others, documents of the violation of human rights during dictatorial regimes and others that narrate slavery and the slave routes. Both themes are poignantly meaningful for the Latin American and Caribbean region. More

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03 July: UNESCO calls for end to destruction of Mali’s heritage

The World Heritage Committee on 2 July condemned the destruction of World Heritage sites in Mali and decided on measures to help the country protect its heritage.

In its decision, the 21-member Committee responsible for implementing the World Heritage Convention, called on the Director-General of UNESCO to create a special fund to help Mali in the conservation of its cultural heritage.

The Committee also appealed on all UNESCO Member States and on the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) as well as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to provide financial resources to this Fund.

The decision strongly condemned the acts of destruction of mausoleums in the World Heritage property of Timbuktu and called for an end to these “repugnant acts.” More


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19 June: UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20)

From 19 to 22 June, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova took part in the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She participated in a number of side events organized by Governments, the UN system and other International Organizations as well as non-governmental organizations.

“Achieving genuine sustainable development calls for more than green investment and low carbon technologies. Besides its economic and ecological dimensions, the social and human dimensions are central factors for success. Ultimately, we must focus our efforts on building green societies.” More

Op-eds: O Globo (Brazil)

Op-eds: Mainichi Newspaper (Japan)

Op-ed: Culture for sustainability – The Daily Stay (Bangladesh)

Op-ed: Education for sustainability - Folha de São Paulo (Brazil), Sydsvenska Dagblad (Sweden)

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14 May: Congress on Technical and Vocational Education and Training

“Building Skills for Work and Life” is the theme of the 3rd international congress on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) which opened, on 14 May, in Shanghai, China. UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova set the tone for the three-day event in her opening address, calling for a new vision of education and training that is relevant for the labour market, responds to individual and social needs and contributes to peace and sustainable development.

“A transformed TVET must go beyond job-specific skills to equip youth and adults with the knowledge, tools and attitudes for work and life,” the Director-General said. “A transformed TVET cannot just be for some – it must happen in multiple settings and be accessible to all women and men. Transforming TVET is necessary for smart growth. It is essential for green growth. It is the path to build new patterns of sustainable development.” More

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03 May: World Press Freedom Day

UNESCO celebrated World Press Freedom Day (3 May) in Tunis this year, with a packed three-day programme of events focused on the role of media as a catalyst for social and political change.

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27 April: Launch of first International Jazz Day

"Jazz has been a force for positive social transformation throughout its history, and it remains so today. This is why UNESCO created International Jazz Day. From its roots in slavery, this music has raised a passionate voice against all forms of oppression. It speaks a language of freedom that is meaningful to all cultures.The same goals guide UNESCO in its efforts to build bridges of dialogue and understanding between all cultures and societies," said UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova in her message on International Jazz Day.

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03 April: First Africa Forum on Science Technology and Innovations

On 3 April, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova opened the Ministerial Conference in the framework of the First Africa Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) for Youth Employment, Human Capital Development and Inclusive Growth. The Ministerial Conference was held in Nairobi, was also opened by the President of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, the President of the African Development Bank Donald Kaberuka, and the Vice-President of the African Union Commission, Erasmus Mwencha.

In her speech to the Ministerial Conference, the Director-General called for “more effective linkages between science and policy,” and underlined the “need for an integrated scientific research agenda to harness the power of science for sustainable development”. “Science is the engine, fuel and accelerator for sustainable development”, said Irina Bokova. More

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12 Mar: Launch of UN World Water Development Report

At the launch of the UN World Water Development Report in Marseille, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova highlighted water as the common denominator of most global challenges. “Water is crucial for agriculture and nutrition, it is essential for food security, it is vital for health, it is needed in all processes to produce electricity or energy,” said the Director-General.

The Director-General underlined the great potential in women as they stand at the heart of sustainable water management, saying “the report shows how supporting and training women to manage and control water resources can change the life of an entire community”.

This 4th World Water Report was launched by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and the Chair of UN-Water Michel Jarraud at the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille (France) on 12 March. The Forum, held once every three years since 1997, was opened by French Prime Minister Francois Fillon. Its objective is to address water related challenges that our world is facing and to place water high on all political agendas.

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Jan-Dec: Celebrating 40 years of World Heritage

“World Heritage is a building block for peace and sustainable development. It is a source of identity and dignity for local communities, a wellspring of knowledge and strength to be shared,” said UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova.

UNESCO celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the adoption of the World Heritage Convention, with a focus on World Heritage and Sustainable Development: the Role of Local Communities. 

UNESCO’s year of celebration included events, conferences, workshops, exhibits and a targeted communication campaign.

Key messages in 2012

During 2012, 32 editorials by the Director-General were published in many of the world’s most influential and widely-read newspapers.

Subjects ranged from the complex issue of protecting cultural heritage in conflict, published in  The New York Times (USA),  Le Figaro (France)  and Dar Al Hayat (Saudi Arabia) to the urgent need to provide skills for young people, published in the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong China) for the launch of the EFA Global Monitoring report, or education for sustainable development, published in O Globo (Brazil) and Mainaichi (Japan) for the Rio +20 Conference.

Director-General activities in 2012

To browse through the archives of all Director-General activities, official visits, and more click here

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