UNESCO at the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly and the Adoption of the Post-2015 Development Agenda

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UNESCO at the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly and the Adoption of the Post-2015 Development Agenda

21.09.2015 – ODG

UNESCO Irina Bokova
© UNESCO/Ania FreindorfIrina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO

From 22 to 30 September, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, is in New York to take part in a number of high-level events within the framework of the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. She will join Heads of State, Government leaders, UN High Level Representatives and civil society for the historic adoption of new Sustainable Development Goals, from 25 to 27 September. These represent a universal, ambitious, sustainable development agenda, an agenda “of the people, by the people and for the people,” crafted with UNESCO’s active involvement.

A Strong Push for Quality Education

In this context, UNESCO will reaffirm the importance of inclusive and quality education for all to achieve sustainable development.

The Director-General will participate in a high-level event on 26 September, organized by UNESCO within the framework of the UN Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI), entitled “Bridging the MDGs to the SDGs for Education 2030”.

This will provide a platform for partners, GEFI Champion Countries and Youth Advocates to come together and advance the Education 2030 Agenda by reaffirming their commitment to put an equitable and inclusive quality education and lifelong learning up front and centre in the implementation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The event will underscore the Incheon Declaration, adopted by 160 Member States and the education community at the World Education Forum 2015 in Incheon, Republic of Korea on 21 May, 2015.

The Director-General will open the event in her capacity as Executive Secretary of GEFI Steering Committee. UNESCO Special Envoy for the Advancement of Girls and Women’s Education, and First Lady of China, Ms Peng Liyuan, the President of the Republic of Korea, H.E. Ms Park Geun-Hye, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Ms Malala Yousafzay, and UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Mr Gordon Brown, will address the opening session.

The Director-General will participate in a High-Level Event on “Ensuring the Inclusion of the Right to Education in Emergencies in the Post-2015 Agenda”, on 30 September, co-hosted by the Permanent Missions of Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Norway, Portugal, Qatar and the United Kingdom to the United Nations. The event will highlight the right to education during emergencies, to generate political momentum and concrete proposals on how to uphold this right in emergency situations.

In the same context, the Director-General will participate in a meeting hosted by the Global Business Coalition for Education on 29 September, on how the business sector can work with international donors and foundations can drive the policy, advocacy and delivery needed so that education is a priority during emergencies.

On 29 September, the Director-General will take part in the first meeting of the International Commission on Financing of Global Education Opportunities, which was launched during the Oslo Education Summit for Development in July 2015.

In an event on 26 September, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the ITU, the Director-General will highlight the importance of solving the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education crisis that the world faces today.

Protecting Cultural Heritage and Countering Violent Extremism

The Director-General will raise the flag in New York for protecting cultural heritage and fighting against the illicit trafficking of cultural objects as a security imperative, essential for peacebuilding and sustainable development. The Director-General will underline the importance also of investing in youth and access to quality education to counter violent extremism.

UNESCO is co-organizing a ministerial-level event with the Permanent Missions of Jordan and Italy to the UN as well as INTERPOL and UNODC entitled “Protecting Cultural Heritage: an Imperative for Humanity”, on 27 September. The event will launch a new partnership to leverage the commitments of governments, UN system, security, development and humanitarian partners as well as all others in support of the protection of world heritage, calling for recognition of the importance of cultural heritage in peacekeeping, humanitarian and development efforts. The event will include interventions by high level government representatives and Heads of UN agencies.

On 24 September, the Director-General will take part in a high-level conference on the destruction of cultural heritage in conflict organized by the Asia Society, the Antiquities Coalition and the Middle East Institute. Key participants include H.E. Dr Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, Foreign Minister of Iraq, H.E. Mr Nasser Judeh, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Mr Kevin Rudd, President of the Asia Society Policy Institute, Ms Josette Sheeran, President of the Asia Society, and Ms Deborah Lehr, Chair of the Antiquities Coalition.

On 29 September, the Director-General will participate in a Roundtable on “Conflict Antiquities: Forging a Public/Private Response to Save the Endangered Patrimony of Iraq and Syria”, organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the United States Department of State.

On 29 September, Irina Bokova is taking part, in the name of the United Nations, in the “Leaders’ Summit on Countering ISIL and Violent Extremism”, hosted by the President of the United States, H.E. Mr Barack Obama.

On 28 September, the Director-General will address the Annual International Economic Alliance on the subject of “Culture and Countering Violent Extremism.” Participants include S.E. Rama N’Diaye Ramatoulaye Diallo, Minister of Culture of Mali, H.E. Bert Koenders, Minister of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands, Ambassador Thomas Pickering, Ms Grete Faremo, Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Project Services, and Ambassador Cynthia Schneider.

Harnessing Gender Equality for Sustainable Development

The Director-General will take part in key events highlighting the UNESCO’s advocacy and leadership in gender equality and the empowerment of women for sustainable development and lasting peace.

She will speak at the “Post-2015 Dialogue 2 on Inequalities, empowering women and leaving no one behind”, held on 25 September, co-chaired by the President of the Republic of Croatia, H.E. Ms Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, and the President of the Republic of Kenya, H.E. Mr Uhuru Kenyatta. This Dialogue will be dedicated to tackling inequalities within and between countries and supporting countries in special situations; supporting all vulnerable groups; achieving gender equality; ensuring access for all to education, health care, social protection and safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation.

The Director-General will attend the opening ceremony of “Global Leaders’ Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: A Commitment to Action”, held on 27 September, 20 years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, co-organized by the People’s Republic of China and UN Women. His Excellency Xi Jinping, President of China, and Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary-General will address the opening. The event will bring together Heads of State and Government to commit to the accelerated implementation of gender equality within a timeframe aligned to the post-2015 development agenda.

The Director-General will participate in an event organized by the Asian University for Women on “Sabaya, Sister, Student: Overcoming Vulnerability through Education”, held on 28 September. Key speakers include Rukmini Callimachi, two-time Pulitzer Prize Finalist and foreign correspondent for The New York Times, Elizabeth McCormack, advisor to the Rockefeller family, and Catherine Russell, US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues.

In her capacity as co-chair of the Broadband Commission, the Director-General will take part in the “Launch of the Broadband Gender Report on Combatting Online Violence against Women and Girls”, on 24 September, with the participation of Baroness Beeban Kidron and online safety advocate, Ms Anita Sarkeesian, as well as Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, and Ms Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme.

She will participate in the Meeting of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Digital Development, on 26 September. The President of the Republic of Rwanda, H.E. Mr Paul Kagame, President of the Carlos Slim Foundation, Mr Caros Slim Helú, and the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union, Mr Houlin Zhao, will also participate in the meeting.

Irina Bokova will participate in the “International Conference on Sustainable Development”, on 23 September, under the theme “Implementing the SDG’s: Getting Started” at the Earth Institute in Columbia University in New York. This will bring together professionals from the private sector, academia, government and civil society, along with students from the world’s top universities, two days before the United Nations Summit to identify and share practical, evidence-based solutions that can support the SDGs. Key speakers include the President of Liberia, Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Former President of Ireland, President of the Board of Trustees of the Mary Robinson Foundation, Her Excellency Mary Robinson, the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr Jan Eliasson, and the Director of Columbia University and Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals, Professor Jeffrey Sachs.

In New York, the Director-General will hold a number of bilateral meetings in the margins of the UN General Assembly.

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Tess Davis Named Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition

The Antiquities Coalition today named Tess Davis as its Executive Director. The lawyer and trained archaeologist will oversee the organization’s work to fight cultural racketeering: the illicit trade in art and antiquities by terrorists and criminals. Davis will also manage the day-to-day operations of the institute’s staff in Washington, DC and New York, and programs in the Middle East and Asia.

Tess Davis
Tess Davis, Executive Director of The Antiquities Coalition.

“We are fortunate to have someone with such talent and experience leading our efforts to fight antiquities looting and trafficking, especially given ISIS’s recent destruction of temples, monuments, and antiquities as a tool for cultural cleansing. The global community has no greater ally in combating cultural racketeering than Tess Davis,” said Deborah Lehr, Chairman and Co-Founder of the Antiquities Coalition.

Davis comes to the Antiquities Coalition after a three-year campaign to help the Royal Government of Cambodia recover a stolen Khmer masterpiece from a prominent auction house. The thousand-year-old statue had been on the block for $3 million dollars, when Cambodia revealed that it had been plundered by paramilitary forces during the country’s bloody civil war with the Khmer Rouge. The auction house refused to return the piece, leading to two years of heated litigation. Thanks in part to Davis’s efforts — and most importantly the hard work of the Cambodian and United States governments — the statue was successfully repatriated in 2014. Davis played a “critical” role in its recovery, in work that was featured by The New York Times.

“I am honored that the Antiquities Coalition has chosen me as its first executive director,” Davis said. “From Cambodia, to Iraq and Syria, to the United States, we are facing a crisis. Cultural racketeering is not just destroying our past, it is threatening our future by funding crime and conflict around the world. The Antiquities Coalition — and the diverse group of leaders it has assembled — is dedicated to stopping this threat to both our cultural heritage and global security. I am very grateful for this opportunity to support them.”

Davis joins the Washington-based nonprofit after devoting the last decade to fighting the illicit antiquities trade: first in the field as an archaeologist, and then by conducting ground-breaking legal and scholarly research for leading academic institutions. She has been a consultant for the Cambodian and U.S. federal governments, and works with both the art world and law enforcement to keep looted antiquities off the market. She is affiliated with the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow.

Davis frequently writes and speaks on the issue of cultural racketeering. Her work has appeared in TheLos Angeles TimesThe New York TimesCNNThe Cambodia Daily and multiple scholarly publications. She also contributes to both The Conversation and The Huffington Post.

What Is Lost With ISIS’s Destruction Of Syria’s Temple Of Bel

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What Is Lost With ISIS’s Destruction Of Syria’s Temple Of Bel

BY LUCY WESTCOTT ON 9/1/15 AT 4:00 PM

The ancient Temple of Bel in Palmyra, Syria, June 11, 2009. ISIS has destroyed the temple, the U.N. confirmed Monday. GUSTAU NACARINO/REUTERS
The ancient Temple of Bel in Palmyra, Syria, June 11, 2009. ISIS has destroyed the temple, the U.N. confirmed Monday.
GUSTAU NACARINO/REUTERS

The United Nations has confirmed the destruction of the Temple of Bel, a historically significant structure in the ISIS-controlled city of Palmyra, Syria, and the latest ancient architectural site demolished by the terrorist group.

The U.N.’s educational, scientific and cultural agency (UNESCO) on Tuesday called the temple’s destruction “an intolerable crime against civilization” and a “war crime.” The destruction of the temple, dedicated to the Semitic god Bel, is particularly devastating due to its unique architectural design and central role in Palmyra, the 2,000-year-old city that grew from a caravan stop to a metropolis and linked the Roman Empire with India, Persia and China.

“The citizens of Palmyra used that wealth to build great architecture, much of which has survived to the present day,” Tess Davis, executive director of Antiquities Coalition, tells Newsweek. “The Temple of Bel really represents the pinnacle of that artistic achievement.”

The top image shows the Temple of Bel on August 27, before its destruction, and the bottom image shows the same structure on August 31, after it was demolished. URTHECAST, AIRBUS DS, UNITAR-UNOSAT/REUTERSGUSTAU NACARINO/REUTERS
The top image shows the Temple of Bel on August 27, before its destruction, and the bottom image shows the same structure on August 31, after it was demolished.
URTHECAST, AIRBUS DS, UNITAR-UNOSAT/REUTERSGUSTAU NACARINO/REUTERS

The Temple of Bel’s destruction was first reported on Sunday by activists and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitor that tracks the country’s civil war. The U.N. confirmed the destruction using satellite images posted to Twitter on Monday. Earlier this year, ISIS destroyed Hatra, a 2,000-year-old archeological site and the capital of one of the first Arab states, and Nimrud, a 3,000-year-old ancient Assyrian city. The group has also looted antiquities from various sites in Iraq and Syria, prompting the FBI to issue a warning to art dealers and collectors last week that objects plundered by ISIS are entering the global marketplace.

ISIS, which took control of Palmyra from Syrian regime forces on May 21, justifies its plundering and pillaging of ancient sites and statues by calling them “false idols,” although the leading authority on Sunni Islam, Al-Azhar, in Cairo, calls ISIS’s actions “a major crime against the whole world.” ISIS is destroying ancient sites like Palmyra for “profit and propaganda,” says Davis. As has been seen in the Balkans, in Cambodia and in Warsaw, the destruction of property and sites will lead to the killing of people, which has already been seen is ISIS-held cities, she says.

“The attacks on culture are attacks on the people of Iraq and Syria,” says Davis.

A 2004 view of Palmyra's ruins toward the Temple of Bel, the large structure at the top, from the Saracen castle overlooking it to the west. Also visible in the photo are the marketplace and the retaining wall of the theater in the middle, along the colonnaded street. JOHN GROUT
A 2004 view of Palmyra’s ruins toward the Temple of Bel, the large structure at the top, from the Saracen castle overlooking it to the west. Also visible in the photo are the marketplace and the retaining wall of the theater in the middle, along the colonnaded street.
JOHN GROUT

John Grout, a Ph.D. student at London’s Royal Holloway University, has been studying Syrian and Iraqi antiquities, many of which have been destroyed by ISIS, over the past five years. Before the Syrian civil war broke out in early 2011, Grout’s original thesis plan would have taken him to Palmyra to conduct field work and might have seen him work with Khaled Asaad, the 82-year-old Syrian antiquities scholar who was beheaded by ISIS last month.

Palmyra, which was put on the World Heritage in Danger list in 2013, is the main case study of Grout’s thesis. It was his “worst fear when [ISIS] captured the city, especially after what happened to Hatra.” Palmyra is one of the best preserved sites of the Roman world and is considered on a par with Pompeii in terms of preservation, he says.

A close-up photo from 2004 of one of the temple's end niches, where a statue would have been located. On the left is a doorway into a stairwell that led up to the roof. JOHN GROUT
A close-up photo from 2004 of one of the temple’s end niches, where a statue would have been located. On the left is a doorway into a stairwell that led up to the roof.
JOHN GROUT

“[The Temple of Bel] was the main temple for Palmyra, so it was like a cathedral,” Grout tells Newsweek. “It would have been a spiritual home in both senses of the word…in the religious sense but also their sense of self-identity as Palmyrenes.”

The significance of the Temple of Bel, which was dedicated in April 32 A.D., lies in its architecture. The layout of the temple is unique, as it subverted stereotypical temple design: Instead of having one focal point at the front of the structure, the Temple of Bel had two focal ends, both containing statues. The temple is also unique as its main entrance was built off the side instead of located at the front, says Grout.

This 2004 photo shows the view between the columns and the temple wall, where some windows are visible. Originally, the columns would have gone all the way around the temple itself, says Grout. JOHN GROUT
This 2004 photo shows the view between the columns and the temple wall, where some windows are visible. Originally, the columns would have gone all the way around the temple itself, says Grout.
JOHN GROUT

The temple’s design combined elements of Greco-Roman architecture, seen in its columns, but is “still obviously Syrian,” says Grout. Syrian design trademarks include evidence of steps leading to the temple’s roof, which was possibly flat and may have been used to address thousands of pilgrims in the courtyard below or to call people to prayer, as well as the temple’s windows, sys Grout. A band of decoration with a leaf-and-egg motif seen on the temple is a distinctly Palmyrene design.

Grout, who studies the role ancient temples played in trade routes, says the temple had gilt-lined columns covered in gold leaf, “so if you’re a caravan approaching Palmyra across the Syrian desert, you would have seen these glinting in the distance.”

“That would have been your sign that you’re finally reaching the end of your route,” he says.

Palmyra remains in the hands of ISIS and its structures remain under threat. Grout fears for the remaining temples of Nabu and Allat; both are smaller than Bel and have been excavated and preserved.

“Those are the most obvious things one should be worried about,” he says.

Other sites in Palmyra, including the theatre, the marketplace and the distinctive curved archway seen in many photos of the site and considered “the symbol of Palmyra” are also in danger.

“The things that ISIS are destroying aren’t just religious monuments, they are the first major monuments of the entire Arab people,” says Grout. “The United Nations was quite right when it said these are war crimes.”

“It’s colossally sad,” he says.

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