The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, laid out a vision for the World Heritage Convention in the 21st century stunning some 200 people from the cultural preservation community attending the ICOMOS Gala celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Convention in Washington on 12 December.
"We have come together to celebrate one of the most positive and visionary ideas that emerged in the last century," she said. "Cultural heritage is a source of energy that provides a foundation of wisdom and knowledge upon which to build a better future; a source that also provides income and jobs to local communities today".
Organized by the United States National Committee of the International Council of Monuments and Sites (US/ICOMOS), the Benefit Gala was under the Honorary Chair of First Lady Mrs. Laura Bush, UNESCO Honorary Ambassador for the Decade of Literacy. Among the dignitaries in attendance the Honourable Ms. Esther Brimmer, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations Affairs; Ms. Rachel Jacobson, Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Department of the Interior; HE Mr. David Killion, Ambassador Permanent Delegate of the United States of America to UNESCO; Mr. Jonathan Jarvis, the Director General of the National Parks Service; Ms Jan C.K. Anderson, Vice-Chair US/ICOMOS; and Gustavo Araoz, President of ICOMOS who called on the gathering to raise its voice in support of the restoration of US funding to UNESCO.
Gustavo Araoz joined with the Director-General in underscoring the challenges of the Convention in a globalized world and the imperative for the United States of America to stay actively engaged in contributing to strengthen the Convention's implementation worldwide as a tool for cultural diplomacy but also for sustainable development and social inclusion.
The President of ICOMOS further emphasized the consequences of the protracted withholding of United States' funding to UNESCO which would undermine its active participation in the Organization's work thereby, putting at risk present and future initiatives that the United States wish to undertake with UNESCO.
Dr. Brimmer said the Convention represents international cooperation at the highest level. "The Convention is an international success story born in the United States of America".
A special tribute was paid to the Honourable Russell E. Train for his vision of World Heritage calling for the creation of a World Heritage Trust which led to the development of the World Heritage Convention and his leadership in environmental protection as Head of the World Wildlife Fund. Train, who passed away in September, was awarded posthumously.
Mr. Lee M. Talbot and Mr. David Hales were also awarded certificates from the Department of State and the Department of the Interior in recognition of their inspiring vision in contributing to the development of the World Heritage Convention that led to the revolutionary concept of cultural heritage of "Outstanding Universal Value".
The Director-General also took part in a round table at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, addressing the psychological and emotional trauma of Syrian refugee children and UNESCO's response in addressing their needs through the development of specific tools for teacher training in post-conflict and post-disaster situations.
These activities are already underway in Jordan with the support of the European Commission, as well as in Lebanon and Iraq.
The Director-General's comments were in response to the research study conducted jointly by New York University and Bahcesehir University which revealed high level of post-traumatic stress and severe depression amongst the children in the refugee camps.
Irina Bokova also held a number of bilateral meetings at the State Department and Congress in which she clearly laid out the long-term implications of the United States withholding of funds to UNESCO, which will be detrimental both to the Organization and to the United States of America.
She reiterated that US and UNESCO values and interests are shared, in particular as concerns the Organization's core priorities, such as UNESCO's global outreach in education, advancing gender equality, bolstering freedom of expression and media pluralism, and preserving cultural heritage.