35th Session of the UNESCO General Conference

Paris, 07 October 2009

Honorable, Mr. Alhaj Yahya Abdul Aziz Jammeh, President of the Republic of Gambia

Mr. President of the General Conference,

Mr. President of the Executive Council,

Mr. Director General,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to be with you today at the UNESCO headquarters in the occasion of the 35th session of the general conference.

I would like at the beginning of my address to express in my personal capacity and on behalf of the State of Qatar my deepest gratitude and appreciation to the Director General Mr. Koichiro Matsuura. Your term in office passed by in a blink of an eye despite taking place in one of the most critical phases in human history since the end of World War II. During the last 10 years, the course of international relations was marked by ideologies intermingling with politics and religion which has led to a reshuffling of cards and to acute divisions.

Mr. Matsuura, you did a wonderful job in guiding wisely, capably and neutrally the course of the organization which was neither an easy task nor something within reach for others. In a situation deteriorating due to diseases, poverty and epidemics, more unity in visions and efforts is required. In this midst, you have managed to preserve the organization’s balance in accordance with its objectives, you were able to avoid slipping into bureaucracy as much as possible and you selected a policy which deals with major issues such as literacy, dialogue of civilizations, global warming etc…

I was particularly delighted and so was my country with the partnership with UNESCO, this partnership which you had the main role of activating, so that together we can bring to fruition our convictions in the importance of education in shaping human identity and civilization, through dealing actively with issues requiring collective effort, bravery and courage.

Because we and many others believe that “the human greatness lies in the capacity of humans to be stronger than their circumstances”, as one contemporary intellectual puts it. 

We worked together in supporting education in Iraq, together we visited Baghdad to learn first hand about the needed requirements, we set up seminars and meetings here and in Doha to develop and enhance the right to education and to contain illiteracy, we also stood together in solidarity for the sanctity of the educational institutions regardless of their location and in spite of all circumstances.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I invite you to salute the Director of our organization and our friend Koichiro Matsuura.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In order for us to better our circumstances, we must be honest to one another when discussing the major issues, the hurdles of which cannot be tackled without a collective and serious work, where each one of us takes a role whether big or small within this harmonious mosaique.

In my speech at the opening of the conference on the challenges of illiteracy in the Arab region which was hosted by Doha on March 12th, 2007 I emphasized the importance of addressing the human development issue through a global approach where issues of literacy, technology, environment, culture, media and health complement each other.

What prompted me to adopt this approach at the time and what leads me to do it again now is because the right to education is facing a structural crisis the repercussions of which might not be revealed in the same way as the repercussions of the financial or the environmental crisis but which in the medium and long term might be stronger and more dangerous.

Depriving children from this right is depriving them from the right to live because education as we see it is quality education which prepares the child, the teenager and the young man to face life, armed with the necessary knowledge, experience and skills which allow him to adapt to all the changes and pressures regardless of their causes. This is the type of education which enables us to face the challenges of the millennium to which we have agreed. Are our educational policies committed to that?

There may be some successes and achievements in some countries in this field but when it comes to the global effort in that regard, the road ahead is still long and full of major milestones. Hence, in our collective minds, didn’t caring for the fate of 75 million children deprived of the right to education, and 150 million children 65% of whom are female who will not be able to complete their primary education become secondary, even marginal? Add to that 776 million illiterate adults and 40 million students deprived from that right due to wars and crisis.

Aren’t these people suffering from the injustice exercised by the international community, from discrimination and from the violation of the sacred right to education?

Isn’t this considered to be a violation of the rule of law whether divine or human which everyone calls to adhere to?

Selecting the year 2015 as a timeline to eradicate illiteracy and to achieve the requirements of education for all was not an arbitrary choice rather it was the result of balancing the needs and requirements according to an accurate scientific system. Hence our problem does not pertain to potentials and capabilities but to the extent to which we are committed to execution and follow ups. Therefore we have to act expeditiously in order to take the right decision.

In order to achieve this, we should definitely not surrender, we have to stand against despair, and we have to enhance our will and determination to change this situation. This change must become a reality, we have to commit to it in order to affirm the acquired right to education as stated by all the charters and international agreements which we adopted. It becomes then our duty to wipe the dust off this legal arsenal and commit to its spirit as much as we commit to charters which serve other purposes.

However our next step should be to activate the cost for change, as change as a way for investment for the present and the future has a cost. Without such a cost change will remain a slogan.

Hence, if we are really convinced that education is our way towards building our hoped for world, a world of democracy, liberty, equality and justice, and if we are serious about that, we must first take care of the cost of change. This cost is not only material as some people would understand it, but it requires us firstly to rearrange our priorities, secondly to create a new culture based on a solid political will with the goal of reconciling heritage and progress, religious, social and political values, and thirdly to work towards changing mentalities by making them in harmony with the requirements of society and the milestones of building the future by taking wise, constructive and bold stances sometimes.

By ensuring quality education for everyone we can face with responsibility and awareness all the pressures which come our way, and I will not be making an overstatement if I say that this demand should remain always our obsession as we look towards achieving the millennium objectives.

We should all question our ethical, legal and human credibility vis a vis the right to education whenever the sanctity of the education system is violated by any party willfully and with premeditation, should we fail to take the required, firm and appropriate action.

Are we not moved by the screaming and shivering of children and the terror they are deliberately subjected to by the war machine and their deprivation from their right to education? Don’t we feel disgust and despair and don’t we doubt the values of righteousness and justice?

This horrible situation was behind my launch of the Education Above All initiative last December, which has among its objectives to monitor, investigate and document all violations committed against education in areas of crisis, conflicts and wars and finding appropriate alternatives.

Mr. Director General of the UNESCO,

I had the opportunity to discuss with you at a previous occasion the need to introduce the culture of peace concept in educational curricula, for educational, ethical and legal considerations. I believe that we, decision makers have failed to comprehend this concept, perhaps due to our diverse and sometimes conflicting political agendas. Therefore our hope and safe haven should always remain connected to our future generations.

As a result, and in all certainty, we see the importance of the pivotal role of a quality education system in building these generations and preparing them to be in charge. This role has been affirmed by the recommendations of the latest conference which we organized a few days ago in partnership with UNESCO in Paris.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We must act now expeditiously and efficiently before it is too late.

We are the ones to build the credibility of UNESCO, without that, Simon de Beauvoir‘s famous saying becomes appropriate: “they are content with killing time waiting for time to kill them.’

Thank you.