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Building peace in the minds of men and women

UN Secretary-General highlights UNESCO’s global leadership in education at Organization’s 40th General Conference

12 November 2019



Paris, 12 November—The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, Tuesday morning stressed UNESCO’s essential mandate in education and pleaded in favour of multilateralism as he opened UNESCO’s 40th General Conference addressing representatives of the Organization’s 193 Member States and 11 Associate Members.

“Education is an essential pillar to achieve our objectives for 2030. And we are late,” said the Secretary-General. “UNESCO has a fundamental role to play to coordinate and monitor global efforts in this regard. I commend the initiative launched by the Director-General at the UN General Assembly last September on the futures of education.” 

Warning against the splintering of the international community along economic, social, and environmental divides, growing hate and discrimination, the Secretary-General declared: “We must do everything to maintain a universal system based on international law and preserve a multipolar world with strong multilateral institutions.”

“A world of cracks and fault-lines is not sustainable,” said the Secretary-General. “In this context, UNESCO’s work is central to bringing the world together.” He also welcomed UNESCO’s contribution to ethical issues in science and technology and “the fact that this General Conference seems to be close to launching a process towards a global normative instrument about the ethics of artificial intelligence.”

After the Secretary-General’s opening, Member States named Ambassador Ahmet Altay Cengizer, Permanent Delegate of Turkey to UNESCO, as President of the 40th session of the General Conference.

UNESCO’s vocation to serve as a laboratory of ideas, was highlighted in the introduction to the policy debate by the Organization’s Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, who denounced the multiple divides that are eroding national and international governance as well as the planet itself.

“Contemporary challenges call on us to draw on our shared humanity,” said Ms Azoulay. “They cannot be contained by territorial borders, nor will they find lasting solutions that are not based on cooperation, solidarity and multilateralism.” 

Denouncing the crippling effect of divisiveness on international governance, the Director-General said that it is our responsibility “to be effective by making multilateralism an everyday reality and by providing evidence that it can lead to better lives.”

Ms Azoulay also stressed the importance of education, “the keystone of peace. We must not only correct the insufficiencies and inequalities that education is suffering from, but also improve our guidance of the world’s educational systems in the future, to lay the best foundations of effective, real sustainable development.” 

The Director-General also highlighted the challenges of harnessing scientific and technological development for the benefit of humanity and the planet, “This is why we ask you [Member States] to develop a shared vision of the ethical questions linked to the development of artificial intelligence, drawing on our networks of experts, on our ability to engage philosophical reflection and on our political legitimacy to launch a global conversation so widely called for.”

The General Conference, the governing body of UNESCO which meets every other year to determine the Organization’s programme and budget, also placed multilateralism high on its agenda with a debate between youth and government leaders, (RE)GENERATION, Rethinking multilateralism with young change-makers, on its opening day.

The event brought together Xavier Espot Zamora, Prime Minister of the Principality of Andorra, Nikol Pachinian, Prime Minister of Armenia, Félix Ulloa, Vice President of El Salvador, Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia, Egils Levits, President of Latvia, Joseph Muscat, Prime Minister of Malta, Aleksandar Vučić, President of Serbia, Julius Maada Bio, President of Sierra Leone, Emomali Rahmon, President of Tajikistan, Youssef Chahed, Head of the Government of Tunisia, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, and young women and men from all over the world who have demonstrated their commitment to the values of global solidarity in working for more inclusive and sustainable societies.

In a lively exchange the young participants urged far greater governmental mobilization to contain climate change, more investment in education, and concerted efforts to ensure that technology is placed at the service of people and their rights.

During its 40th session which ends on 27 November, Member States are also set to adopt an international convention destined to facilitate the international recognition of higher education diploma and the free movement of students and faculty. 


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