Statement by Chargé d’Affaires Beth Poisson to the 194th Executive Board

Madam Director General,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me start by welcoming the Chair and pledging our cooperation.

As we look at the state of the world today, we see that the fundamental freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly are under assault in many regions.  UNESCO has a unique and critical role to play in helping member states to promote “the free flow of ideas by word and image” and in calling attention to the issue when they fail to do so.

We are witness to increasing threats to the exercise of a free media.  The Director-General has condemned the killings of ninety-one journalists in 2013, and, sadly, already twenty-six in 2014.  Threats to their lives and safety – journalists beaten, arrested and imprisoned simply for doing their jobs – create a climate of fear, intimidation, and self-censorship that diminishes the possibility of unfettered, passionate dialogue.

Equally as insidious are the technological and political limitations that are imposed on access to information – both via traditional and online platforms: television channels closed down or threatened for airing interviews with the “wrong” people or blatant propaganda forced on the viewing public in order to pre-determine the outcome of illegal referendums.

These actions are designed to have a chilling effect on the free, independent and pluralistic media that is so essential to maintaining inclusive political dialogue, accountability, and good governance, as well as in developing an informed citizenry.

UNESCO has been a leader in promoting a multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance, particularly through its key role in the World Summit on the Information Society review process, and it must continue to champion a bottom-up approach that harnesses the creativity and expertise of non-governmental organizations, academia, and the private sector, among others.

We would like to express our appreciation for UNESCO’s leadership on the UN Global Education First Initiative, for which the United States is very proud to have recently become a Champion Country.

Education will be a key part of the post-2015 development agenda, which member states are currently engaged in shaping.  We believe there should be an emphasis on equitable access to quality education, achievement of “standards-based” learning outcomes for all, and higher rates of completion at all levels of the education spectrum.  UNESCO will have a sizeable role in implementing the post-2015 agenda in education, and we have every confidence that UNESCO will bring continued strong leadership to that task.

UNESCO also plays a lead role in the protection and preservation of cultural patrimony.  Two weeks ago, the U.S. Delegation was pleased to co-sponsor a screening at UNESCO of the film “Monuments Men,” which tells the story of the brave men and women who worked diligently to recover thousands of priceless works of stolen art, confiscated during World War II.

Of course, the theme of cultural patrimony still resonates strongly today.  We are all familiar with the tragic destruction of cultural sites in Syria, including the historic marketplace of Aleppo, which was destroyed by the indiscriminate bombing by the Assad regime of its own population.  We grieved at the damage to the ancient manuscripts and mausoleums in Timbuktu while it was under the control of Islamist rebels.

Fortunately, UNESCO has been able to help begin the rebuilding and rehabilitation process in northern Mali.  Director-General Bokova has also called attention to the critical situation in Syria.  UNESCO must also be clear about international obligations to protect cultural sites and monuments in Ukraine.

We will continue to work with the Director-General and our fellow delegations to highlight key programs and issues at UNESCO.  For example, this week we are honored to co-sponsor with the Rwandan Delegation an exhibit in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Genocide, featuring powerful video testimonies and evocative artwork.  This exhibition echoes the pioneering work of UNESCO’s Holocaust Education program in sharing the lessons of the past in order to prevent such horrific tragedies from occurring again.

Tomorrow, April 9, in partnership with UNESCO, we will have a screening of the film “Bully.” It presents a searing examination of the corrosive effects of bullying in schools on the individual victims as well as their communities.

UNESCO has been a leader in promoting global efforts to combat bullying and violence in schools and, especially, bullying directed at marginalized populations, including Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender individuals.

Another top U.S. priority is the health of the world’s oceans.  As Secretary Kerry recently said:  “Whether you live on the coast or you live hundreds of miles from the closest beach, the fact is that every human on Earth depends on the oceans for the food we eat and for the air we breathe.”  In addition, grave challenges to freshwater bodies are emerging around the globe, and will have a negative impact on economic development, leading to potential conflicts for increasingly scarcer water resources.

The United States participates in and strongly supports two key UNESCO programs:  the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and the International Hydrological Program (IHP). Both programs are essential platforms for achieving international progress in disaster reduction, protection of marine ecosystems, and water resource management.

Our engagement with UNESCO on these and other programs will continue to reflect the commitment of the United States to engage constructively with this organization.

Thank you.