UNESCO - aðalráðstefna París - enska

General Conference
Paris, 17 October, 2001

Mr President

I would like to begin by extending my congratulations to you on your election to this distinguished office. I now have the great pleasure of addressing the UNESCO General Conference for the third time.

In the years that have passed since I first stood in this podium, we have witnessed many events of international significance. None, however, have had the impact of the attack on 11 September on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, home of the US Department of Defence. I cannot find words strong enough to express my deep abhorrence for this barbaric and shameful act. I would also like to convey my deepest sympathy for all those who have suffered as a result of this tragic event.

The government of Iceland has taken a determined stand, both within NATO and elsewhere, with those who seek by all available means bring to justice those who would attack peaceful civilians in this way.

I would like to make use of this distinguished venue to reiterate the need for ensuring the safety of our citizens against all forms of violence, terrorism, and attacks against human dignity and human rights.

It is vitally important that UNESCO serve as a forum for a serious discussion of these matters, because the most effective way of fighting hatred and evil is to emphasise education and culture. Education leads to a rejection of all kinds of violence, physical and mental. By emphasising cultural diversity, arts and the knowledge of languages we foster greater tolerance between individuals and nations. I strongly recommend that UNESCO put more resources than ever before into creating and improving conditions for relations between people of different nationalities.

More than ever, dialogue between civilizations is needed, more than ever, civic education is called for, be it political, economic, religious or cultural. A global civic society will not become a reality unless there is greater consensus on human rights and the rights of all ethnic groups to support and promote their own culture and history.

The themes and priorities set out in UNESCO’s programme for 2002 to 2003 are of great relevance in this connection. By stressing education for all and cultural diversity we are laying the ground for more equality based on knowledge and understanding.

Let me first mention Education for all and the follow up to the Dakar declaration. We have witnessed a new awakening in the field of education at a global level and the new strategies are already bringing results. We see this not least within UNESCO and other international organisations.

Education for all as defined in Dakar is a major challenge and every member state has to meet that challenge on three levels: First, by measuring its own national educational system vis-à-vis the Dakar conclusions. Second, by drawing up a map on educational assistance in developing countries, be it on a bi-lateral or multilateral basis, seeing what has been achieved and what more can be done. And third, by reflecting on the overall role of UNESCO in successfully following up the Dakar conclusions and its own contribution to that huge effort. The Nordic countries, in fact, have been prominent in international education work and in this case the measures taken will be a joint Nordic Council venture.

The Internet now plays an ever-greater role in the dissemination of knowledge and builds new bridges between students and teachers. Concomitant with this trend, it is necessary to formulate a new framework for using the Internet in schooling to strengthen access to appropriate content, open new paths of communications and train students for participation in the knowledge society. In Iceland, we have set out a new plan for eLearning 2001-2003, where we take note of the fact that the distinction between local education and distance education is gradually disappearing through eLearning. Rather, these ways of teaching and learning are intertwined in distributed education, where equal use is made of traditional teaching and learning and knowledge imparted using the Internet. A student can thus engage in distributed learning in one or many schools at a time, be enrolled in local studies and distance studies or a mixture of the two. The main focus is on the student and in providing opportunities for him or her to pursue the education that best fits his or her needs. Our project for eLearning is based on four pillars: teaching and learning, educational content, equipment and educational gateways

In the field of science, there is no question that the work of COMEST, under the chairmanship of Ms Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, has already borne fruit. The ethical side is especially apparent in the social and human sciences programmes of UNESCO we are discussing at this general conference, whereas it is no less needed in the field of natural sciences. This is amply demonstrated by the excellent publications of the sub-commissions on Water, Energy, Outer Space and Communication Technology, written in a concise manner, understandable to all and not only experts, which is exactly what we need now.

In the field of culture I want to mention three topics, all of paramount importance.

First, I would like to express my hope that this general conference may approve the Declaration on Cultural Diversity, a declaration which in future we will be able to refer to as a major signpost of our endeavours in this most important field. We have to make it clear to all where we stand and our action plan must be concise and realistic, recognising the different values of cultural goods compared to common goods and services, and the need for new copyright and neighbouring rights conventions for the new media.

Secondly, the Convention of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, has to take into consideration the objectives of the Law of the Sea.

Thirdly, I want to stress the importance of UNESCO’s continued emphasis on safeguarding all languages, of always respecting people’s rights to use their own language, and encouraging the study of foreign languages by as many as possible. There is no better way of dispelling suspicion between people and nations than learning a language and thereby getting to know a new culture. One of the premises of cultural diversity is the flourishing of a multitude of languages. No language is so minor as not to merit nurturing.

It is one thing to know a language and another to be allowed to use it. We must protect people’s rights to express their thoughts and opinions through the means available to them. Due to the terrible events I mentioned earlier we might have to face difficult questions, as we seek ways to ensure our security while we try to find those who threaten it and who may hide in the most unlikely places. As we deal with this problem, our guiding light must be not to limit the peaceful, creative spirit and not to allow evil thugs to deprive us of the freedom that is a prerequisite of progress and the arts.

Ladies and gentlemen.

To conclude, let me reaffirm Iceland’s commitment to the ideals that UNESCO stands for. If they were respected by all we would be living in a better world. We have to use this unique forum to promote in a pragmatic manner a truly global civic society based on education and knowledge and the respect for cultural diversity.