New Unesco head vows dialogue and reform

Paris: New Unesco chief Audrey Azoulay on Friday promised to promote dialogue, a month after the US and Israel announced they were leaving the UN’s cultural, scientific and educational agency.
Azoulay’s appointment, voted on by the agency’s executive board last month, was confirmed on Friday by the general conference of all 195 member states as the successor to Bulgaria’s Irina Bokova.
The former French culture minister said that Unesco’s mandate was more urgently needed than ever in a world faced by extremism, conflict and climate change.
To cope with those challenges, “we must work via the most fundamental factors, which are those at the heart of Unesco’s mandate: education, culture… creativity, the sciences, the defence of freedom of expression and the defence of creative freedom,” she argued.
Azoulay said that after the decision by the US and Israel to leave the organisation, which they accused of bias against Israel, she would continue to work with non-governmental groups from both countries.
“History shows us that leaving this sort of organisation, leaving the table of the global conversation, can lead to disaster,” she said.
Azoulay sought to tread a middle ground regarding accusations that Unesco had been politicised, a complaint frequently made by Israel since the agency admitted Palestine as a member in 2011.
As an organisation composed of member states, Unesco could not by nature be apolitical, but it had to stick to its own mandate, she said.
“Its mandate is not that of the United Nations in New York, it is a mandate based on well-defined competences, competences that can create a space for dialogue that is otherwise missing,” she said.
“That is what I want to continue doing and developing at Unesco: creating spaces for dialogue even when there are crises outside.”
Azoulay also promised to press for further reform of the agency, saying it had to “constantly renew its pact of confidence with the world, with member states.”
Unesco must “keep the path for reform that has been started so that it is more fit for purpose, transparent and accountable,” she said.
The US stopped paying dues to Unesco in 2011 in protest against its decision to grant Palestine membership. — dpa