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Mme Director General,
Mme President of the Executive Board,
Honourable Ministers, Excellencies
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honour for me to address this distinguished audience today. May I first - Madam President – extend my congratulations to your election as President of the 36th General Conference and assure you of Austria´s full cooperation in your endeavours.
I am particularly pleased to be here in Paris today, since Austria traditionally attaches great importance to the overall objectives of UNESCO within the UN family.
For all of us UNESCO is synonymous for: promoting peace and security through international cooperation in education, science and culture.
I would like to focus on three of Austria’s priorities in UNESCO. First enhancing "Education for All", second "human rights education" and third promoting "intercultural dialogue and religious pluralism".
Let me turn first to "Education for All".The renowned Italian Pedagogue Maria Montessori once said "Establishing lasting peace is the work of education".
It is "Education for All", indeed, that leads to respecting diversity in all its expressions. In a nutshell: “Education for All” means PEACE. "Education for All" is one of UNESCO´s main priorities and when talking about education, Austria pays particular attention to the
quality of education and the promotion of adult literacy.
Education is the basis for asking the right questions, because the right questions allow changing the status quo. Changing the status quo means giving room to critical thinking and to development.
Sustainable development can only be achieved if critical thinking is allowed, which in turn is only possible with the right education.
Governments should never be afraid of independent minds since they contribute significantly to society and sustainable development.
Fundamental human rights are also directly linked to education and development. I am referring here for example to the right to information, the right to freedom of expression and the right to press-freedom. We are half way through the “Decade of Education”
for sustainable development. Austria fully supports UNESCO´s strategies in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and welcomes the intensifying co-operation between UNESCO and the European Union in this regard.
Ladies and gentlemen,
effective education includes knowledge about human rights. Education that focusses on tolerance and non-violence has always been a core concern of Austria´s foreign policy.
Another core concern particularly with regard to the mandate of UNESCO is the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press. Austria is concerned about the worldwide increase of attacks against journalists. These attacks are a direct response to critical
journalistic thinking and critical reporting.
Austria stands ready to support also UNESCO´s work in this area. We will host an expert consultation with UNESCO-experts in Vienna at the end of this month to be followed-up next year.
While the protection of journalists is surely one important aspect, the protection of digital information too needs to be taken into careful consideration. Austria is a traditional supporter of the “Memory of the World Programme” and therefore welcomes UNESCO’s
endeavours towards preservation of traditional as well as digital information.
Digital information and new means of electronic communication can be used to the advantage but also to the disadvantage of humankind.
Unfortunately prejudices and ignorance spread easily via new means of communication and can trigger violent conflicts. I am convinced that dialogue is the only way to counter religious and racial upheaval.
Let me to turn to my third point "intercultural dialogue and religious pluralism".
In support of UNESCO's mission Austria has always been committed to serving as a platform for global dialogue, cooperation and peace. Austria has a long tradition of intercultural cooperation and the respect for religious pluralism.
Vienna has been the venue of the first Arab-European Young Leaders Forum 2010 in cooperation with the League of Arab States which resulted in the creation of a network of young people in leading positions in the Arab world and Europe. The next forum is
planned in Cairo in Egypt 2012. In support of UNESCO’s new global youth agenda a European-North American Conference on Youth Participation took place in Vienna last September.
Only two weeks ago Austria, Spain and Saudi Arabia agreed to establish a centre for intercultural and inter-religious dialogue in Vienna. Austria is proud – in addition to that - to host the 5th Annual Forum of the UN-Alliance of Civilizations in 2013.
Austria will continue its engagement to promote intercultural dialogue.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
If all of these ideas have to be put into practice effectively, it needs proper measures to rise to that challenge.
To achieve our objectives we have to keep the UNESCO a powerful tool in order to succeed in its mission. Austria fully supports Director General Irina Bokova´s on-going reform efforts, enabling UNESCO to meaningfully face the challenges of the 21st century.
We welcome the budget draft for 2012/2013 including the proposed 0% nominal growth scenario and the plan to bring the programming cycle in line with the general UN-System of 4 years. It is a clear signal to Member States that the funds available are managed effectively and efficiently, particularly in times when governments are facing financial restrictions.
UNESCO needs to focus on the "big issues" and develop its partnership capabilities. This entails strengthening the relationship with civil society in particular through the National Commissions, a unique and efficient system within the UN.
Austria does not only want to pay lip service to the overall objectives of UNESCO that´s why we have decided to submit our candidature for membership in the Executive Board for the upcoming period, to contribute actively to the promotion of UNESCO´s principles.
In conclusion ladies and gentlemen,
this year we have witnessed a series of tragic events that will remain in our minds: from the incomprehensible murders of young people in Norway, the aggravating financial and social crises that hit various developed states, the devastating tsunami in Japan and the
nuclear contamination in Fukushima, the ravaging drought in the Horn of Africa, to the floods in Thailand and the earthquake in Turkey.
But we have also seen the courageous fight of the people in various Arab societies for their justified aspirations against oppression which will hopefully very soon be crowned by success. All these disasters and events were not limited to a single continent - on the contrary - they once again revealed in unambiguous terms that they – natural
or man-made - concern all of us as a global community.
Causes and characters of crises differ. The basis of their successful prevention and management, however, is always the same. It is cooperation and dialogue based on the principles of tolerance, human rights and education.
It is our common duty to prevent human tragedies and also to safeguard our common cultural heritage that is affected or even destroyed in conflicts or disasters.
Thanks to its comprehensive mandate UNESCO offers a unique forum in the UN-System for an international and all-inclusive dialogue and co-operation.
We will assure that UNESCO can fully focus on these priorities producing quality results in its mission – PEACE. Because peace is not only UNESCO´s mission – it is the shared responsibility of all of us.
Madam President, thank you very much.