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Building Peace UNESCO Forum

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UN Trip Summary
March 11 , 201

Mariam Yaqub, CIE Graduate Student

UNESCO Forum on “Building Peace: Reconciliation Through the Power of Education, the Sciences, and Culture”


This event took place at the conclusion of the meeting of the High Panel on Peace and Dialogue among Cultures, which marked the end of both the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2010) and the Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010).  Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon presented the opening remarks, in which he noted that the “human family continues to face a series of challenges, obstacles, and conflicts” that highlight the importance of reconciliation efforts, especially those involving young people,  as youth can be drivers of change.  The forum, led by Ms. Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, included the members of the High Panel, as well as the several special invited guests, and was moderated by TV journalist Femi Oke.  The illustrious panelists included:

  • Forest Whitaker, Artist, Film Director and Producer
  • Jorge Sampaio, High Representative of the UN Secretary-General for the Alliance of Civilizations; former President of Portugal
  • His Royal Highness Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud of Saudi Arabia. Chairman, Board of Directors, King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies
  • Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri, Director-General of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO)
  • Arjun Appadurai, Goddard Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development
  • Homi K. Bhabha, Professor of English and American Literature and Language, and Director of the Humanities Center at Harvard University
  • Günter Blobel, Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine (1999); John D. Rockefeller Jr. Professor and Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the Rockefeller University
  • Kjell Magne Bondevik, Founder and President of the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights and Former Prime Minister of Norway
  • Chen Kaige, Chinese Film Director
  • Omer Zülfu Livaneli, Writer, musician, Film Director and Member of Parliament
  • Candido Mendes, Secretary-General of the Academy of Latinity and Dean of the Universidade Candido Mendes
  • Babatunde Osotimehin, Under Secretary-General of the United Nations; Executive Director of
  • United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
  • Aminata Traore, President of the “Forum pour un autre Mali” ; former Minister for Culture and Tourism of Mali


Although everyone attending, panelists and audience members included, agreed on the basic premise of the importance of reconciliation and the possibilities provided by education, the sciences, and culture to bring people together, differences of opinion about how exactly these processes should work made for lively debate.  Issues included what form education for peaceful societies should take – more emphasis on science, technology, and math, or less?; whether institutionalized education damages children’s creativity and zest for life; and who the blame for bad education should fall on – teachers, or the entire system, or other factors? While education was the focus of much of the debate, two panelists, with spirited participation from the audience, disagreed on whether having more women involved in politics would naturally lead to a more peaceful world.  In other words, are women by their natures more peaceful than men, and if so, would this difference translate into politics if there were better gender parity among those in power?  Other exciting dialogue centered on how language can be a medium of reconciliation or used to marginalize certain groups, and one panelist posited that “globalization is an econonomic form of war.” In her view, “Africa does not have a growth problem; rather the form of growth is the problem.” 

The afternoon, though it provided no easy answers, was thought-provoking and quite valuable precisely because there was such a lack of consensus.  As participants listened to each other and responded thoughtfully despite their disagreement, they highlighted the theme of the forum itself: the importance of dialogue and mutual respect for solving conflict.

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