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Other U.S. Policy Statements 2010

Ambassador Killion’s Remarks at the Annual Meeting of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO

26 May 2010
Room full of people listening intently (State Dept)

U.S. National Commissioners Listen to the Keynote Address (State Dept)

Thank you, Liz.  It is an honor to be here today and to finally have the chance to meet with you all face to face.  Given the many subjects I would like to cover this morning, I thought it might be best to tell you what’s been happening in Paris, and save about 15 minutes for questions and answers.

It is a new day at UNESCO.  During the spring Executive Board, Director-General Bokova named her senior management team, all of whom will be in place by July 1st.  The new ADG’s mix old and new, and include, I am glad to say, many women, notably, a new American ADG for Science, Dr. Gretchen Kalonji, who comes from the University of California.  Dr. Kalonji is here with us today and I am happy to have the honor of formally introducing her to this Commission.  I’ve met Dr. Kalonji several times in the past month or so, and am very impressed.  She will explain her own goals to you, but I understand she plans to reach out to you and the American scientific community for assistance in helping improve UNESCO’s science programs.  Dr. Kalonji spent many years in Africa, and has already indicated her interest in focusing her work on capacity building in Africa, as well as developing opportunities for more women to enter into the field in the future.

Director-General Bokova has also named Getachew Engida, UNESCO’s Comptroller, from Ethiopia, as Deputy Director-General.  He is someone we know well, and believe he will do an excellent job providing management expertise in the Organization’s number two spot.

This is the best opportunity we will have in years to give this Organization a new élan and spirit.  We are confident that problems that we have struggled with for many years can be solved with the new management team in place.

We have already told Madame Bokova that the United States will rededicate our efforts to help boost UNESCO’s work on two overarching priorities: Africa and gender equality. Africa’s needs are great and we need to reflect on the best way to ensure that our friends and colleagues on that continent share fully in the world’s educational and scientific progress.  The fact that the Director-General has named an Ethiopian as her Deputy, a Tunisian for UNESCO’s Administrative section, and a Malian as ADG for Africa will, I hope, help concentrate and improve UNESCO’s work to build better results for Africa.

Gender equality is one of Secretary Clinton’s top priorities for UNESCO.  As UNESCO’s first female Director-General, Bokova clearly intends to extend the progress we have made in achieving gender balance in the lower and mid-ranks of our Organization to its senior ranks. Her decision to name four women ADG’s is a strong sign that things are changing at UNESCO.  I would also mention that she has just moved the Gender Equality section into the Director-General’s office, again giving greater attention to gender equality in all of UNESCO’s programs.

As you all know, improving education and working to meet the Education for All goals has been one of our top priorities at UNESCO.  Our commitment to literacy and quality education is unwavering.  We are serious about achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and we are committed to maintaining UNESCO’s role in leading Education for All.

As this year’s Global Monitoring Report told us clearly, while progress has been made, we have a long way to go to achieve those goals and to ensure that educational opportunities are genuinely available to all. 

In light of our concern for gender equality, we believe that UNESCO has an important role to play in ensuring that women and girls are afforded educational opportunities.  Statistics clearly show that the world’s illiterate population is disproportionately female.  Secretary of State Clinton has said that she believes UNESCO should lead the fight to ensure that girls have the opportunity to be educated.  The U.S. will be resolute in looking for ways to work with UNESCO to give girls the chance to go to school, including by building capacity in UNESCO’s basic education office to tackle this issue.  We also support UNESCO’s efforts to protect women from violence.

I have heard many of my colleagues voice concern that UNESCO is so focused on basic education that it is overlooking young people seeking secondary and tertiary education.  The very success of the Education for All initiative hinges on providing the growing numbers of young people enrolled in primary school with the opportunity to continue their studies.

We must now help UNESCO address how countries can deal with growing populations, specifically those in the 15 to 25 years age range - the most vulnerable age group.  We believe that UNESCO should be working to help guide these youth for productive lives, employment, and with the life skills they need to be productive citizens in their communities and in the world.  We believe that UNESCO should work to strengthen the capacity of governments and NGO’s to reach at-risk youth through community-based programs that focus on positive youth development and dissuade youth from turning to violent and extremist acts.

We strongly support UNESCO’s efforts to promote technical and vocational education, and we believe that UNESCO should look more broadly at post-secondary education to seek ways to better orient both academic and technical education to the needs of the job market.  It was in that spirit that Jill Biden, our Vice-President’s spouse suggested that UNESCO look to see what aspects of the U.S. community college system could be adapted to education elsewhere.  We were also pleased to have the new Undersecretary of Education, Dr. Martha Kanter, visit UNESCO, where she, too, expressed an interest in helping UNESCO develop its programs linked to higher education.

Science has always been an area of interest for us, but with Dr. Kalonji’s selection as ADG, I believe we have a golden opportunity to do more.

Frankly, we owe it to Dr. Kalonji to give her our full backing.  The choice of an American as ADG was popular with Member States because they expect an American ADG can help unlock access to American’s great scientific community.  That’s a heavy responsibility, and she won’t be able to do it all on her own.  She’ll need our help, and I hope we can use this meeting to generate some ideas for the future.

General Hatch, we will have to talk more to Dr. Kalonji when she arrives, but I am happy to report that she told me she was interested in working on engineering issues in Africa.  We’ll have to discuss this further with her on Thursday. 

As it now stands, we continue to work on our long-standing concerns about salt and fresh water issues.  We are deeply proud of the contribution the Inter-governmental Oceanographic Commission has made to climate science, and we look forward to active participation in the International Hydrological Program, now that we are at last Council members.  As Secretary Clinton noted in a speech on World Water Day, ". . . as pressing as water issues are now, they will become even more important in the near future . . . . By 2025, just 15 years from now, nearly two-thirds of the world's countries will be water-stressed . . . and 2.4 billion people will face absolute water scarcity, the point at which a lack of water threatens social and economic development."  This is a major challenge, and we are delighted that the General Conference approved the U.S.’s first Category 2 water center for integrated water management, hosted by the Army Corps of Engineers to deal with these problems.

Of course, we know that the fundamental task of this Organization is building peace.  We applaud the Director-General’s willingness to tackle this difficult subject.  The DG has put efforts in place to re-energize UNESCO’s role as a convener and catalyst for positive change, especially in the realm of intercultural dialogue.  I underscore the important role youth can play in UNESCO’s efforts in this area, as the current generation of youth, the largest in history, can be a powerful force for building partnerships based on mutual respect.  I would also note that Director-General Matsuura, before his departure, appointed an American, Esther Coopersmith, as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, whose job will be specifically to improve intercultural dialogue.  Ambassador Coopersmith has met with Director-General Bokova many times, and hosted the D-G here in Washington, strengthening the ties between the U.S. and UNESCO’s leadership.

The U.S. has been concerned over the past few years about “forum shopping” at the United Nations – the practice of raising political issues in fora that are inappropriate rather than raising them in Geneva, or at the General Assembly and Security Council in New York.  These bodies were created to deal with political issues touching on peace and security around the world.  We have seen this, notably on issues concerning Jerusalem, which have come up time and again during UNESCO’s Executive Boards.

These issues are urgent and on the front page, but UNESCO was created to ensure that the less exciting but equally important issues of education, science, and culture are addressed.  While we have worked hard to try to limit the debates on issues of sovereignty and the obligations of occupying powers – issues that have preoccupied the world for decades, some states seem determined to raise them.  We will continue to work to put Executive Board meetings back on track with the business at hand, and stop the practice of tying up meetings in lengthy discussions that belong elsewhere.  I have been working closely with Eleonora Mitrofanova, of the Russian Federation, who is the new Chairman of the Executive Board, to see how we can rein in these problems, and I am hopeful we will have some success.

This July, I will be attending the World Heritage Committee meeting in Brasilia, during which the U.S. will be presenting its first candidates for inscription on the World Heritage List in almost 20 years:  Mount Vernon and the Papa-hanau-mokua-kea Marine Park in Hawaii.  

The meetings promise to be difficult, as some countries will continue to raise a number of Jerusalem-related issues for the Committee’s review, adding to the time constraints on what has always been an overly full agenda for the Committee. 

This year we will be attending the Brasilia meeting as observers, as our term on the Committee ended.  Without a vote, we will be lobbying hard and working closely with like-minded countries to ensure that the World Heritage Committee’s main work – that of protection and conservation of the World’s outstanding natural and man-made treasures, remains the first priority. 

We will also be watching the situation in the Gulf of Mexico closely, as again, some of America’s World Heritage sites around the Gulf coast, including the Everglades, could be endangered by the oil spill in the coming weeks and months ahead.

Finally, on another subject, we have begun initial discussions with a number of other countries in hopes of launching an important new project, the creation of an international museum dedicated to Women in the Arts.  While the U.S. is assisting in coordinating the informal first steps, I am confident that this new project is an exciting one that will bring together many elements of UNESCO’s work in culture, education and gender equality.  I look forward to providing you with more information on this project as it develops.

The workload in Paris has been on a constant increase since my arrival last August.  I am glad to say that we’ve been able to convince Washington to provide some additional help, and we will soon have two new junior Foreign Service Officers joining us in Paris, one to do education and the other to do science.

One last thing that I’d like to say before I take some questions is that I hope that all of the Commissioners will feel free to contact me in Paris, either directly or through the IO/UNESCO office at the State Department, if there is anything we can do or regarding any questions you might have.  I consider the U.S. National Commission to be an invaluable resource for the U.S. Mission and, in turn, an invaluable resource for UNESCO to accomplish its goals.  I know that, given the change of administrations, we have not been able to take full advantage of the National Commission in our day to day work.  I am sure that in developing policy recommendations for UNESCO and helping UNESCO put them into action, the National Commission has a role to play, both strategically and operationally.  I hope that together, we can work more closely to achieve our common goals in the fields of science, education, culture, communications and information.

Now, as promised, I’d like to open the floor up to questions.