Explanation of Vote for Agenda Item 24, Response of UNESCO to the Situation in the Syrian Arab Republic

Statement as delivered by U.S. Permanent Representative to UNESCO,  Ambassador David Killion, on 8 March 2012

“Thank you Mr. Chairman,

The United States is profoundly disappointed that this resolution does not call for the outright removal of Syria from the Committee on Conventions and Recommendations – something for which we have repeatedly called for.  We agree with Director-General Bokova that, given the actions of the Assad regime, it is not clear how Syria can contribute to the work of the committee.  We hope that UNESCO will revisit Syria’s membership following the UNESCO’s Director General’s report on Syria.

Nonetheless, we are pleased to have joined with our Arab League colleagues to decry the abuse and atrocities currently unfolding in Syria.  Today, UNESCO becomes the third UN agency – following the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council – to successfully address the increasingly dire human rights situation in Syria.

In Commission of Inquiry’s second Report, issued on February 22, the Commission describes the effect of the conflict on the children of Syria.  More than 500 children have been killed.  Some children have been killed or wounded by snipers and other state forces, including those 10 years old or younger.  Others have been arrested, tortured, and sexually abused in detention.  Children cannot go to school.  The streets are not safe and more than 1000 schools have been vandalized, burned or destroyed.

Syrian villages, towns and cities are facing devastation, and Syria’s rich cultural heritage is imperiled.  How many dead and wounded journalists must be carried out of Syria before we recognize that the situation in that country is an affront to the very purposes for which UNESCO was founded?

UNESCO should also respond to the pleas of the Syrian people to the international community for help as part of UNESCO’s essential role in protecting the cultural, historical and natural heritage of humanity, and facilitating the free flow of ideas.
UNESCO must be committed to acting responsibly.  Member states must join together in a single voice to say that the suffering and gross violations of human rights happening today in Syria will not be ignored by this Organization.  Today, mindful of our obligations under UNESCO’s Constitution, the Executive Board has adopted a clear and robust resolution in response to the situation in Syria.  We look forward to further action by this committee to address Syria’s membership on the Committee on Conventions and Recommendations.

Thank you very much Mr. Chairman”

Ambassador Killion Applauds New UNESCO Initiative to Promote LGBT rights

                                   New York's Gay Pride March, the world's oldest gay pride parade (©AP Images)

U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO David Killion praised UNESCO’s announcement that it would hold the first-ever United Nations consultation on LBGT rights in schools, calling it “an important step forward in promoting gay rights at the international level.”

The consultation is being held in Rio de Janeiro from December 6th- 9th to discuss the question of widespread abuse and discrimination against LGBT students in schools and universities.  According to UNESCO, more than 90% of LGBT students in the United States have been subjected to homophobic harassment; in New Zealand 98% of LGBT people say they have been verbally or physically abused at school. UNESCO has emphasized the psychological and intellectual costs of this abuse, underscoring that LGBT students are more likely to drop out of school and to contemplate or engage in self-destructive behavior.  The Rio consultation will examine existing policies and programs that support LGBT students with the goal of identifying best practices that can be shared with Ministries of Education across the world.  

Ambassador Killion congratulated UNESCO for the initiative.

“UNESCO can play an important role in the promotion of gay rights,” Killion said. “Discriminatory attitudes are often learned in schools, so this is where they must be fought.  UNESCO is helping schools across the world teach tolerance, including through Holocaust education, and I’m glad to see that the organization is developing new ways to combat homophobic attitudes.”

UNESCO’s initiative coincided with an announcement by the Obama administration that it would actively seek to promote gay rights as part of its foreign policy.  Speaking to an audience of diplomats in honor of International Human Rights day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” On December 6th, the Obama Administration issued a presidential memorandum directing all federal agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.

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