On 16 June, during her official visit to the Kingdom of Cambodia, the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, met with His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni, who underscored the "strong ties which unite the Kingdom of Cambodia and UNESCO".
"I will always stand at the side of UNESCO to uphold its values," declared the King, voicing his pride and privilege to host the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee on the 20th anniversary of the inscription of the iconic Angkor Archaeological Park.
The Director-General stated that cultural heritage should be a lever of dialogue, cooperation and respect amongst nations and peoples. Irina Bokova also informed His Majesty about the progress achieved in UNESCO's advocacy for the full recognition of the role of culture in the post-2015 global development agenda as an enabler of sustainability – highlighting the recent landmark events at the UN General Assembly and the Hangzhou International Congress in China.
"Our culture is our identity, our pride and our soul," stated King Sihamoni.
During the discussion, the King appealed to the Director-General to support the capacity-building of young women and men in the areas of culture and sciences. During her official visit to the Kingdom of Cambodia, the Director-General held bilateral meetings with line Ministries in charge of cooperation with UNESCO. Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen underscored his country's pride in celebrating the 20th anniversary of the inscription of "Cambodia's precious jewel of Angkor, marking the long-lasting relations between UNESCO and the Kingdom". In this respect, he noted the social and economic growth brought to the country as a result of the site's inscription and its historical importance for national unity. The Prime Minister underlined here the country’s commitment to heritage protection and conservation, and affirmed his personal conviction that cultural heritage is a powerful tool for development, peace and prosperity. "We feel proud in what our ancestors have left for us", he added.
He also pleaded for UNESCO to support human resource development in his country. "I would like to see Cambodia pursue a knowledge-based development", he said, taking note of the Director-General's plea to increase the country's national budget for education, in order to sustain the current reform of the education system with a view to upgrading literacy, quality education, and teacher training. The Director-General praised the Prime Minister for his leadership in securing fast and positive steps towards poverty eradication in the country, as witnessed by impressive economic and social growth.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, H.E. Mr Hor Namhong, highlighted the importance of hosting the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee on the 20th anniversary of the inscription of Angkor Archaeological Park and the anniversary of the International Coordinating Committee, co-chaired by Cambodia, France, and Japan. "Our cultural heritage is not just a source for sustainable development, but a source of renewal", declared Minister Hor Namhong, underlining the number of temples built across the country from the pre- and post-Angkorian age, ranging from the 5th to the 15th centuries. In this context, Minister Hor Namhong noted the progress achieved in the preservation of the Temple of Preah Vihear, underscoring his commitment to maintaining good relations with the Thai authorities in the spirit of the 1972 Convention.
Teacher training, the development of skills and competence were at the core of the discussions between the Director-General and the Minister of Education, H.E. Mr. Im Sethy. The Minister recalled that 80 percent of teachers had been killed during the 30 year long Khmer Rouge regime, requiring the country to start rebuilding the educational system in its entirety. In this context, he acknowledged the importance of UNESCO's intervention immediately following the end of the civil war. He emphasized the strategy of his Ministry to recruit 5000 teachers every year, in the context of an in-depth reform launched in 2000. He drew attention to the efforts accomplished to increase equitable access to education for girls and boys in the secondary – notably, through the establishment of school dormitories for girls, to the benefit of marginalized students and those living in remote rural areas, and through the provision of scholarships every year. He noted also the ongoing challenge to improve the quality of education, in particular in TVET and teacher training, targeting primarily "unreached" learners in remote rural areas. Minister Im Sethy praised UNESCO for currently leading donors' efforts, as coordinating agency within the Global Partnership for Education, to develop a comprehensive strategy for education for the next five years, through support to the development of the Education Strategic Policy Plan, highlighting its relevance in a country where 60 percent of the population is below the age of 25. "It is paramount to prepare youth for jobs. We have to encourage the diversification of jobs and disciplines, in particular in science and technology," said the Minister, explaining his country's strong investment in secondary education and technical training from the third year of secondary and its encouragement to professional experience.
Minister Im Sethy reiterated the key challenge of improving the quality of teachers, highlighting the disparities between the public and private education systems – these motivated the country's ratification of the Convention on Recognition of Degrees and Diplomas in 2012 and the creation of a UNESCO/World Bank sub-group on strengthening the process of accreditation of diplomas of the Ministry, with a view to upgrading quality education and harmonizing curricula between the public and private system. He noted also that the Government had recently implemented a 20 percent increase in the salary of teachers.
Minister Im Sethy emphasized also the increasing cooperation between ASEAN countries, seeking to create by 2015 a common market in terms of curricula development, training and multilingualism. The Minister thanked UNESCO for helping to make the case with the Government about the imperative of increasing the budget devoted to education. The Director-General commended the Minister for his leadership – there is today 97 percent access to primary education in the country, thanks to free and compulsory schooling from primary to 9 years old. "Young women and men will ensure the prosperity and the future of your country -- you have made the right choice to invest in education, as a strong education system provides the foundations of the future success of a country," declared the Director-General.
The Director-General congratulated the Minister for completing the Education Monitoring Information System, to assess non-formal education across the country through support to community learning centers. These centers are important for providing skills and competencies which strengthen the relevance of education. Recalling the dark ages of the Khmer Rouge regime, the Minister declared “we must never forget what happened.”
The Director-General also met with the Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, H.E. Mr. Him Chhem, and the Minister of Information, H.E. Mr. Khieu Kannarith. The discussion focused on UNESCO's support to building capacities for inventorying and safeguarding intangible cultural heritage – notably, the millenary Kun Bokkhator martial art, updating the Press Law of 1995 and the Access to Information Policy Framework of 2007.
The Minister of Tourism, H.E. Dr. Thong Khon, noted the 18 percent growth rate of tourism in the first four months of 2013 -- seeing an overall increase of one million more tourists per year, generating a significant contribution to GDP, directly and indirectly. The Minister also emphasized his country's commitment to enhancing the quality of tourism and productive development based on the 3 Rs strategy – namely, the "Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle" Campaign launched by the Prime Minister Hun Sen.
On 16 June, during the opening ceremony of the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee, H.E. Mr. Sok An, Vice-Prime Minister and Chairperson of the session, underscored that “the Convention must remain an object of pride to our eyes". In this context, the Director-General appealed to States Parties and the preservation community in attendance to build on cultural heritage as a foundation for identity and belonging, and a force for sustainable development and social inclusion. The Committee's opening ceremony was marked by the moving restitution of two life-size masterworks known as "Kneeling Attendants" (8th century Khmer statues) from the Metropolitan Museum in New York to the Kingdom of Cambodia's National Museum, undertaken with UNESCO's active cooperation. "This restitution is an expression of strong ethical and moral behaviors and provides an example of good practice to other museums and collectors", declared Irina Bokova. Ms. Emily Rafferty, President of the Metropolitan Museum declared "UNESCO's vigilance in protecting and promoting knowledge are increasingly important to care for the treasures of the world. We are proud to share with you our commitment to research and to the preservation of the world's treasures".
The Director-General also inaugurated three exhibitions on the world's cultural and natural heritage --respectively organized by Cambodia, entitled "Heritage, Nature and People" to celebrate 20 years of international cooperation in Angkor, by the Philippines and by Japan, featuring Japan's 20-year contribution to the conservation of the World Heritage site of Angkor.
The official visit to the Kingdom of Cambodia featured also bilateral meetings with Ministers attending the World Heritage Committee -- including the Ministers of Culture of Cameroon, Kenya, Mali, Tajikistan, and the Minister of Natural Resources and Cultural Heritage of Thailand.
The Director-General visited the National Museum, hosting some 14.000 pieces, which is one of the world’s largest collections of Khmer art, ranging from sculptures, ceramics and ethnographic objects. These include a considerable number of historical masterworks, featuring statues and objects from the pre- and post-Angkorian age, from the Hindu to Buddhist traditions, many of which were subject to archaeological excavations and restitutions. During her visit to the Tuol Sleng Museum, Irina Bokova witnessed the tragic pages of the history of the genocide of the people of Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge regime. This Museum was established in a former prison in the city town centre. She commended the authorities for cooperating with UNESCO in digitalizing the archives documenting the atrocities of the civil war.
The Director-General also visited the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center, which collects images and sounds of Cambodian memory, making them available to a wide public and training Cambodians in the audiovisual profession. UNESCO works to celebrate World Audiovisual Heritage Day with the Center every year and to raise awareness about the importance of preserving audiovisual heritage for future generations.
In the margins of the Committee, the Director-General renewed UNESCO's strategic cooperation agreement with Panasonic, commending Mr. Takumi Kajisha, Panasonic Senior Managing Executive Officer, for his visionary commitment to the conservation and sustainable development of World Heritage sites. With this, cooperation between UNESCO and Panasonic was extended from 2013 to 2015 -- to benefit UNESCO's conservation and education efforts across the world, to raise awareness about global environmental youth education and to sustain global communication on conservation.