Director General Bokova,
Fellow Permanent Representatives and Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is the ninth time that I have addressed a UNESCO Executive Board on behalf of President Barack Obama and the United States of America. It is also the final time that I will address you.
Often in these statements I have recalled the principles espoused at UNESCO’s founding. The reason for this repeated return to UNESCO’s basic principles is simple. UNESCO is a twenty-first century organization that is tackling problems in innovative ways, but it does so authoritatively and effectively only when it holds firm to the enduring principles which underpinned its creation nearly seventy years ago. These principles – including access to education, intercultural dialogue, conflict prevention, scientific exploration, press freedom and safety for journalists, and protecting the world’s natural and cultural heritage – are global principles, and ones that are very important to the United States.
The United States supports important UNESCO programs, including the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, the Coalition of Cities against Racism, Holocaust Education, and the World Heritage Program, just to name a vital few.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Coalition of Cities against Racism and Discrimination was launched by the U.S. Conference of Mayors in partnership with UNESCO and the U.S. Department of State. More than sixty American cities – from Washington, DC to Los Angeles, CA – have now joined the global UNESCO network of cities working together to combat racism, discrimination, xenophobia, and exclusion. We will continue to support the growth of this important initiative.
With extremely limited resources, UNESCO continues to be the only UN body that promotes Holocaust Remembrance and Education. This program consistently produces results that stretch well beyond its budget, working to prevent genocide and mass atrocities around the world by transmitting the hard lessons learned from the Holocaust. This is an area of UNESCO leadership, and it deserves our strong support.
Ladies and Gentlemen, UNESCO’s founders were visionary in creating an organization that specifically incorporated representation from both civil society and a wide array of subject-matter experts through its National Commissions and NGO partnerships. They recognized that nation states would no longer be the sole voices in the international community, and that top-down governance had its limits.
This trend has only become more developed since UNESCO’s creation. And the evolution of the Internet has only accelerated the variety of actors who can – and should – participate substantively in the debates that shape our communal present and future. In this domain, UNESCO has long championed the multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance that supports freedom and inclusiveness and that strengthens civil socity.
As we respond to the incredibly fast-paced changes in the online environment, it is vital that this body take no action – however unintentional – that would slow the pace of innovation, hamper global economic development, or undermine free expression and social entrepreneurship.
As you are aware, turning to another subject, President Obama and his national security team, especially Secretary Kerry, are deeply committed to reaching a final status agreement that would put an end to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The two sides have now come back to the table, with the goal being two states for two peoples, living side by side in peace and security. In light of the resumption of direct talks, the two sides are deeply engaged and have agreed to focus on the core issues at the heart of their conflict, and to avoid unilateral steps that are counter-productive to peace.
Politicizing the agenda of UNESCO, particularly through one-sided, non-consensus-based resolutions, will undermine this process. At this moment in history, it should be self-evident to the international community, including UNESCO’s Executive Board, that we should strive to create a positive climate conducive to negotiations between the parties.
As Secretary Kerry has said, leaders from around the world understand that they share a stake in the success of this agenda. We all have a role to play, which is why global leaders have continued to contribute to this effort, to advise, to make commitments of support, and to push and advocate and encourage the parties every step of the way.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I would be remiss if I did not note the United States’ deep appreciation for the leadership of UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. The Director-General has shown her mettle during a period of intense challenges for UNESCO. Director-General Bokova’s continued leadership of UNESCO will ensure that the organization retains the balance of innovation to tackle new challenges while also holding firm to the basic and universal principles for which it was founded.
Thank you very much.