Statement by Ambassador David Killion to the 189th Executive Board

Madame Chair, Director-General Bokova, Excellencies, Colleagues, Friends:

We are all keenly aware of the serious challenges that UNESCO and its member states have been facing over the past few months.  The road has been difficult, and still more obstacles lie ahead, but I am confident that we can – and will – rise to the occasion.  Challenging times demand strong leadership, and that is just what we must demonstrate – particularly with regard to two critical issues:  UNESCO’s financial future, and the dire situation in Syria.

This session of UNESCO’s Executive Board has put the focus on finance and finding a way forward.  The Director-General has taken the view that this moment should be seen as an opportunity to push forward changes that we have been talking about for many years.  The U.S. delegation, like many other delegations here, wishes to strongly confirm our support for Director-General Bokova’s efforts, and urges her to continue to improve this organization, making it stronger and more effective for the future.

As many of you know, President Obama has included a request for funding of UNESCO as a part of his fiscal year 2013 budget that is now being considered on Capitol Hill.  While there remain obstacles for us to overcome on funding issues, I would like to assure the Board that the Obama Administration remains fully committed to active engagement across the multilateral system, including here at UNESCO.

The dire situation in Syria is another matter that demands strong leadership from UNESCO’s membership.  In Geneva, at the Human Rights Council, and in New York at the General Assembly, our countries joined together to denounce the despicable actions of the Syrian regime.  Likewise, UNESCO must fulfill its mandate to protect and preserve education, science, culture and freedom of expression.  A year from now, how will we answer the question, “Where was UNESCO during the Asad regime’s ruthless crackdown?”  In certain parts of Syria today, children cannot go to school without fear of arbitrary arrest, torture, or even death.  Cities are being indiscriminately bombarded with mortars and heavy artillery fire and cultural artifacts destroyed.  Doctors cannot honor their oaths to treat the wounded.  The Press cannot tell the story of what is happening in Syria today. The regime’s unrelenting violence has caused tens of thousands of Syrians to flee their homes and created widespread suffering among the Syrian people.   The UN Human Rights Council has rightly asked all UN bodies to take appropriate action.  And so, at this session, the Executive Board will do just that.  The U.S. delegation has joined with 35 others to call upon UNESCO to take appropriate action in response to the abhorrent human rights abuses that are currently ongoing in Syria.

In addition to these critical and sobering issues, we must also exercise leadership when it comes to the important every day work of UNESCO within its areas of competence.  The debates during the Ad Hoc Working Group were valuable, as they helped us understand the kinds of challenges that are coming down the line.  Some of the questions at hand are: how will UNESCO deal with Education for All after 2015; how will the Culture Sector handle its responsibilities regarding the many Conventions it is charged with managing; and how will the Education Sector revitalize its teacher training work in light of its heightened focus on teachers.

The United States is actively supportive of UNESCO’s efforts to promote peace and spread the message of tolerance.  Last month, a delegation from Washington participated along with our Brazilian partners in the launch of “Teaching Respect for All,” an anti-racism educational curriculum for the 21st century under development by UNESCO’s Education sector.  And just a couple of weeks ago, we formalized the establishment of the new International Institute for Peace at Rutgers University, supported by Goodwill Ambassador Forest Whitaker, as the second UNESCO Category 2 Center in the United States.  Honorary Ambassador and Special Envoy Samuel Pisar will also be working to educate and help expand UNESCO’s role in teaching about the Holocaust and genocide prevention, building on our strong commitment to Holocaust Education.  Goodwill Ambassador Herbie Hancock’s work to use music to carry the message of peace through International Jazz Day, also demonstrates another one of the amazing tools that UNESCO has at its disposal.  Through these efforts and others, UNESCO helps to build bridges and break down the barriers of prejudice and hatred.

The United States also supports UNESCO’s innovative efforts to leverage resources and broaden its base of expertise by forging partnerships with the private sector.  The private sector companies that have partnered with UNESCO understand that by doing so, they can increase their international reach, raise their visibility, and tap into programs that help their customers, or that their customers support.  Microsoft’s interest in working with UNESCO in the preparation of the Third International Congress on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) is an excellent case in point.  So is Procter and Gamble’s work in helping young girls read in Senegal; Google’s participation in the World Digital Library; the Packard Foundation’s new work helping girls in East Africa stay in school; Apple’s iTunes University; and, of course, L’Oreal’s amazing contribution to boost the visibility of women and girls in science over the years could be just the beginning.  Partnership with the private sector is a “win-win” situation for UNESCO and for business.

In closing, I want to reassure all delegations that the United States is deeply committed to UNESCO in every way we can be.  We look forward to working with you, colleagues, Madame Director-General, and the Secretariat in making a stronger and more effective UNESCO for the future.

Thank you, Madame Chair.