Madam Chair, Madame Director General, Excellencies, Colleagues, Friends,
UNESCO is an organization founded on hope – hope of a better world, hope that we can overcome conflict, hope that we can move forward together. At the last Executive Board, thanks to the Russian Ambassador, and with support from the United States and many other countries, this organization took a hopeful step forward to reject politicization of cultural issues in the Middle East in favor of a much more constructive approach. The Director General continues to consult with the concerned parties on this issue, and we remain extremely hopeful that we can find a solution before the end of this Board that will represent a major breakthrough against all odds.
Speaking of a way forward, I wanted to share our thoughts on UNESCO’s future. There is much talk these days of how the world is moving towards a more open and inclusive model, in which civil society, business and ordinary citizens have a greater role to play. Nation states are – and will continue to be — critically important actors, but they cannot succeed alone. They must work with civil society and the private sector if they hope to build stable, prosperous and free societies. As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once said, what we need in this new world is “multi-partner diplomacy”.
We believe that UNESCO – an organization created in the 20th Century in response to the travails of the day – is extremely well adapted to these 21st Century challenges and opportunities. UNESCO alone in the international system benefits from a global network of National Commissions that ensure non-governmental organizations are associated with our work. Because of this, UNESCO takes an open and inclusive approach to problem solving.
My government was very pleased with UNESCO’s leadership in hosting the first 10-year review meeting of the World Summit on the Information Society. This meeting brought together not just governments, but stakeholders from every domain to discuss Internet freedom and governance. I am pleased to say that severalAmerican companies, including Google, Verizon and the Walt Disney corporation, helped fund this event.
Also, with the support of the U.S.-based Hewlett Foundation, UNESCO held the first World ‘Open Educational Resources’ Congress, where government and nongovernment experts discussed groundbreaking ways to expand access to education.
We are always pleased to see UNESCO come together to support courageous individuals who speak out for their rights. I was so honored to stand with everyone here in support of brave young Malala of Pakistan – and many other Malalas like her– to insist on the right of girls and women to an education.
The United States urges UNESCO to continue making girls’ education a priority. We are proud to have funded UNESCO’s “Better Life, Better Future” report on the value of dedicating resources to this effort. With U.S. support, this report will be re-published this year in several additional languages, including Arabic, Burmese, Chinese, Indonesian, Pashtu, Spanish and Urdu. UNESCO continues to partner with the private sector in innovative ways on this issue. In December, Procter & Gamble committed $2.4 million to an expanded partnership for girls’ and women’s education.
My Delegation is heartened too by the important work UNESCO is doing to fight racism and bullying in schools, drawing on extra-budgetary support from the U.S. and Brazil. We must ensure that every child can go to school without fear, and be respected for his or her own unique talents and dreams.
Another area where UNESCO shines is its innovation in science.
With the support of the U.S. Geological Survey and others scientists from around the world, UNESCO is harnessing new technology to find major new sources of water where it is scarce. Meanwhile, our National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration continues to work with UNESCO to save lives by improving disaster warning systems and response.
Through UNESCO, member states are finding ways to harness culture in the service of peace. Let me salute our dear friends, our Turkish colleagues, for hosting UNESCO’s second International Day of Jazz. I know UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Herbie Hancock looks forward to be-bopping his way through Istanbul!
Speaking of hosts, we congratulate our Costa Rican friends for welcoming World Press Freedom Day to their shores this year. The U.S. was honored to host this event in 2011 in Washington, D.C., and we look forward to participating in San Jose. UNESCO must continue to speak out for press freedom and the protection of journalists, those courageous people who keep us honest and informed.
We support UNESCO’s work to combat the intolerance and extremism that has led to the destruction of the ancient markets of Aleppo, the Sufi shrines of Libya, and the mausoleums and manuscripts of Timbuktu. We thank the Director-General for her leadership in responding to the destruction of historic sites in Mali. These attacks on Mali’s heritage shocked us all, and we were glad to see the DG take decisive action in response. This kind of leadership is exactly why the U.S. supports her reelection to a second term.
As we see it, UNESCO is well on its way toward reshaping itself for the 21st Century, building on the openness and inclusiveness that is part of its DNA. Yes, more reforms are needed to meet future challenges and to improve transparency and effectiveness. The DG has already taken many key steps, involving financial disclosure, whistleblower protection, improved management systems, and a massive reduction of costs. Still, more can and should be done.
As far as the proposed structural reforms are concerned, we cannot support anything that is not well-thought out and designed to improve operational effectiveness. We strongly encourage the Board to preserve the organization’s existing centers of expertise – particularly in the exceptional Communication and Information Sector – to serve as expert advisors to other Sectors as they integrate new communication technologies into their work. In order to retain the dynamism and vitality it brings to the organization, we hope to keep the CI sector intact.
As we discuss the future and the 37 C4 and C5, I know many of you are wondering about finances. My Administration continues to work with our Congress to resolve the issue so that we can meet our commitments to UNESCO. Of course, I had hoped to be able to report at this Board that this was solved, but unfortunately that is not yet the case. However, we will not give up. On April 10, President Obama delivered his budget request to the Congress. His budget includes a formal request for a waiver of the suspension of U.S. funding to UNESCO. It also includes funding for this year and previous years. We will keep pushing our rock up the hill until we reach the top because, we agree, the current situation is not sustainable.
Meanwhile, we pledge to continue to engage as a full member of UNESCO by finding creative ways to support its work.