Thank you, Mr. Chairman of the Executive Board, Madam President of the General Conference, Madam Director-General and staff, distinguished representatives and colleagues:
It is with a degree of optimism that I address this Executive Board session, my last before departing the U.S. Mission to UNESCO later this year. With a new leadership team at UNESCO and a clear vision and commitment by the Director-General to reshaping and reinvigorating this organization befitting its ambitious mandate, we hope the initiatives she has described and commenced will contribute to the broad UN system reform effort underway, focused squarely on transparency, accountability, and results.
For any international organization and its leadership team, this would be no easy task, including for a new DG and a newly created Assistant DG for Management. We welcome their commitment to driving systemic change, and look forward to supporting their efforts.
Though we are departing UNESCO, the United States will remain active and a strong player globally on all issues where UNESCO works – including education, science, culture, and information. We intend to work with UNESCO to advance these shared goals, and alignment of our respective efforts will remain a priority.
In fact, we will continue to look for tangible ways in which we can support and collaborate with UNESCO. For example, we were pleased to finalize arrangements with UNESCO this year to establish a “Fellows” program to bring college and graduate students from U.S. UNESCO Chair institutions here to Paris, as volunteers to work in key mandate areas. We will also continue the Laura W. Bush travelling Fellowship to fund American university students to conduct brief work in a foreign country on topics related to UNESCO’s mandate.
And, the public-private partnerships we initiated recently – one on girls’ STEAM education (“TeachHer”); the other on preventing violent extremism (PVE) through education (PeaceWorX) – continue to have positive impacts in the countries and communities where they were piloted. The models we used in their design will hopefully be used by others here as a template for future partnerships. Also, we continue to collaborate and meet our responsibilities under the 1970 and 1972 UNESCO Conventions concerning looting and illicit trafficking of cultural property and world heritage, respectively.
Preventing violent extremism via education is even more critical now. With ISIS largely militarily defeated, and the threat more dispersed than ever, preventing youth from being radicalized to violence is the longer-term challenge. Reaching youth in and out of schools – raising their awareness and building their resilience – is key to blunting the appeal of terrorist ideology – online and offline. UNESCO’s nascent “digital literacy” initiative is particularly important, as it has the potential to address online radicalization by equipping students with the knowledge and skills to recognize and refute terrorist content. Looking ahead, this may be one of the most important areas of PVE via education efforts.
That said, we are still disappointed that some in this Organization continue to foment politicization and exploit regional tensions on issues beyond the remit of UNESCO. Such actions distract from the positive work being done here, and incorrectly cast such disputes as conflicts with zero-sum outcomes only. It is part of the reason why the United States ultimately decided to leave UNESCO. We urge all member states to safeguard the principles, ideals, and commitment to peace upon which the United Nations was founded in the days after World War II.
In particular, we hope member states will commit to defending the Committee on Conventions and Recommendations, UNESCO’s primary human rights body, from being systematically attacked and weakened by enemies of human rights, freedom, and liberty. The CR is a vital part of the core mandate of UNESCO, shining a spotlight on human rights abuses, illegal detentions, and attacks on freedom of expression and journalist safety. Its work complements and reinforces efforts in the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council.
We urge member states and the DG to make every effort to promote the CR’s important role and its work. We must defend against efforts to diminish the CR, including the increased frequency of unwarranted dismissals and rulings of inadmissibility which have in the past been highly unusual.
Likewise, the Director-General and member states must speak regularly to condemn vigorously all cases of violence perpetrated against journalists and end impunity against its perpetrators. Freedom of expression is crucial to functioning democracy and to genuine economic prosperity; we must support a stronger role for UNESCO in this sphere.
In the area of culture, whether theft and destruction by terror groups like ISIS or abuses perpetrated by Russian occupation authorities against Crimean Tatars in occupied Ukraine, UNESCO has a key role to play and should be supported. Accordingly, we look forward to a rapid and successful launch of UNESCO’s direct monitoring activities in Crimea, in strict accordance with UNGA Resolution 68/262.
On reform, we had been disappointed at the slow pace and lack of earlier progress. In particular, we want to see more attention on Fifth Committee recommendations, such as dispensing with first class travel by agency heads and transparency into Human Resource decision-making. A robust Ethics Office, with a longer mandate and jurisdiction over HR decisions, should be pursued. We hope these and other Fifth Committee and Joint Inspection Unit recommendations are seriously addressed in future sessions.
As I said at the outset, however, we have great hopes for the new leadership team here at UNESCO. I remain optimistic that they will bring new ideas and new energy to this organization, and help it and the member states put aside politicization, rediscover its path, and continue to work on its mission for the benefit of mankind.
Thank you for your attention.