Remarks at the U.S. National Commission for UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Annual Meeting
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs
Good morning. It is great to see so many familiar faces including many of you who participated in the December UNESCO Commission meeting. For those of you participating in the Commission meeting for the first time, we welcome you and greatly appreciate your commitment to American engagement with UNESCO.
First, I want to highlight the strong leadership of our Ambassador to UNESCO, David Killion, who along with our hardworking mission in Paris, deserves appreciation for their efforts to strength our engagement and advance American interests at UNESCO.
I also want to recognize our incredibly talented team in Washington, Deputy Assistant
Secretary Nerissa Cook, Liz Kanick, Executive Director for the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, Kelly Siekman, the UNESCO Office Director as well as the entire staff in the Office of UNESCO Affairs. Working day in and day out, your extraordinary efforts are deeply appreciated and are profoundly impacting millions of lives around the globe daily.
I also want to thank all those Commissioners that have worked with the Administration and our Mission over the past year to address the wide-ranging challenges we face at UNESCO.
I think you would all agree it is hard not to be passionate about the work of UNESCO or be supportive of its core goals to contribute to the “building of peace, the eradication of poverty, the creation of sustainable development and intercultural dialogue by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture.”From addressing hunger to providing education to children around the globe, UNESCO is part of a global effort to lift up billions in need and create 21st century platforms, and bring together different nations and cultures to collectively solve the world’s most vexing problems.
We know that when UNESCO is successful it has a significant impact on current and future generations. We see this across the globe when children are given the opportunity, a chance, to focus on their education and a better economic future rather than living in fear of conflict or suffering from a lacking of sufficient nutrition, thus crippling their ability to lead healthy, happy and productive lives.
Two weeks ago in Haiti, I met with UNESCO’s representative in Port-au-Prince, who is working along with the international community, to bring critical emergency assistance and long term relief to Haiti. Due in part to UNESCO’s work in Haiti, schools have re-opened and some 75 percent of Haitian children enrolled in school prior to the earthquake have now returned to their studies. The GOH and UNESCO have developed a new curriculum for 600,000 of these students, which takes into account the trauma they have endured. While there is certainly a difficult road ahead of us in helping the Government of Haiti and its people rebuild their nation and make sure that all Haitian children go to school, UNESCO is on the ground working with the Haitian government and international partners, to rebuild Haiti’s education system, to support Haitian national agencies to strengthen their resilience to future earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters, and to preserve that nation’s cultural heritage sites. In order for us to succeed in rebuilding Haiti back better, we must ensure that we rebuild the social, cultural and intellectual fabric of the nation.
As we deal with some of the most difficult 21st Century challenges, including addressing failed states, preventing conflicts and atrocities, alleviating hunger and poverty afflicting billions globally, this Administration recognizes the critical role that UNESCO’s core goals play in ensuring international peace, security and justice.
When I spoke to many of you in December, I highlighted the need to “seize the moment” and take advantage of a new opportunity for enhanced U.S. engagement with UNESCO, under the leadership of the new Director-General Bokova. At the time, I presented the Administration’s stepped up engagement with UNESCO as a chance to promote and champion freedom of expression, gender equality, human rights, and tolerance.
When Secretary Clinton met with UNESCO’s Director General Bokova this past January, she added greater emphasis to the importance of our engagement at UNESCO stating, “I was proud to offer our support for the organization’s (UNESCO’s) comprehensive agenda, not only encouraging freedom of expression and promoting advances in science and engineering, but concentrating on women and girls around the world, particularly their education, something which is key to America’s efforts to stabilize countries, to resolve conflicts, to raise the aspirations and incomes of societies.”
This Administration’s decision to ramp up multilateral engagement at the United Nations, UNESCO and across the UN system should not come as a surprise to anyone in this room. In fact it is precisely the policy of broader, deeper multilateral engagement -- the implementation of smart power that President Obama and this Administration have pursued for the last sixteen months -- that has renewed America’s global leadership.
At the United Nations and indeed across the UN system, the Administration has built new bridges, strengthened existing ties, and fully embraced the fact that the United States does not and cannot stand separate from the world, but rather is embedded in it – economically, politically, and culturally. The United States looks to work with the United Nations and global partners to address problems of international peace, security and justice to advance many of the President’s top priorities. Like the founders of UNESCO, we believe that the “rule of law, respect for human rights, and freedom of expression are strengthened through international cooperation.” In his speech before the United Nations last September, President Obama spoke eloquently about the challenges facing the United States and the world we live in today. He said “more than at any point in human history -- the interests of nations and peoples are shared. The religious convictions that we hold in our hearts can forge new bonds among people, or they can tear us apart. The technology we harness can light the path to peace, or forever darken it. The energy we use can sustain our planet, or destroy it. What happens to the hope of a single child -- anywhere -- can enrich our world, or impoverish it.”
During his speech the President also spoke about a “common future,” a “new era of engagement based on “mutual interest” and “mutual respect.” He emphasized the need for persistent action, saying that the “future will be forged by deeds and not simply words.” In so many ways, when the President spoke about a common future, he could have been speaking to members of this Commission, and of the work being done at UNESCO.
Each and every one of you has an opportunity not just to be the force for persistent action, but a force for good, that will ensure that the President’s vision of a common future is not just rhetoric but truly comes to fruition. By serving on this Commission, you have answered President Obama’s call for greater American engagement internationally. You have also answered the call of the leaders who created UNESCO after World War II who recognized that you have to “build peace in the minds of people not just through words but through action.”
Each of you is part of this Commission because you are leaders in your field and want to have a positive impact on our participation in UNESCO. You come from unique backgrounds and have unique connections that can not only help us but also help each other. With optimism we look forward to your continued efforts to work with the State Department and our mission in Paris. We rely on your leadership, good advice and counsel as we build on our efforts and create new opportunities as situations arise at UNESCO.
In closing, the United States supports our heightened engagement at UNESCO, and the UN, because we think it is an investment in the world's security, and therefore an investment in America's security, prosperity, and freedom.
Thank you all again for participating in today’s meeting and for your tireless efforts to advance American interests at UNESCO and globally. This Administration deeply appreciates your service and we look forward to working with each of you.
And now, I’d be happy to answer any questions that the Commission may have for me.