“Our commitment must be to remember the victims who perished, respect the survivors still with us, and reaffirm humanity's common aspiration for mutual understanding and justice.”
-- Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust
On 24 September, the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, took part in an event entitled “Towards Inclusive Societies: Empowerment and Education as a strategy to prevent genocide”, within the framework of the UN General Assembly.
The event was co-hosted by the Minister of State of Belgium, HE Mr De Decker and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ghana, Ms Hannah Tatteh, moderated by the Special Advisor of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr Adama Dieng.
The aim of the side event was to explore how to tackle the root causes of hate speech, in particular via targeted awareness raising and educational initiatives. An important question in this regard is how and to what extent new communication and information technologies can serve as an educational instrument to foster an inclusive society.
The Director-General stressed the crucial role education can play in mitigating hate speech and violence: “The prevention of genocide starts on the benches of schools” she said.
“Education can help prevent hate speech and undermine prejudice -- by weakening the grounds for ignorance, by promoting learning to live together, by cultivating respect for all people (…) I see this as a human rights imperative, a development imperative and a security imperative.”She drew special attention to need to develop media literacy to prevent hate speech and promote tolerance through new ICTs. “In a world where the ‘local’ is but one click away from the ‘global, we need a renewed commitment to dialogue, tolerance, reconciliation and understanding – online and offline. She continued, highlighting UNESCO’s leadership role in promoting new forms of global citizenship and fostering freedom of expression.
The Director-General also highlighted UNESCO’s commitment to teach about the history of the Holocaust and other genocides. She mentioned in particular the recent creation by UNESCO of several university chairs dedicated to education about genocide, and underlined UNESCO’s work with several African and Latin American ministries of education in that regard.
“Teaching about genocide is not only a work for the memory of those who were lost” she said “it is an effort to alert the living today, and to recall that what happened yesterday can happen again”.
In closing, Irina Bokova said, “History tells us humanity is capable of the worst and the best. This is why education is so essential -- to transmit our collective history, to nurture respect for equality, human rights and dignity, to fight against every form of hatred and discrimination. This is a struggle for the best of humanity.”