IHEU: representing Humanism at UNESCO

  • Date / 15 December 2008

Since September 2007, a new IHEU delegation has been in place to represent Humanism at UNESCO in Paris. In a new report, Sam Ayache, head of IHEU’s delegation to UNESCO, reports on their progress against the odds.

UNESCO, an institution of the UN specialised in the promotion of Science and Culture throughout the world, was founded after the Second World War with the active participation of prominent Humanists such as Huxley.

IHEU has always played a major role in UNESCO and for many years, the strong links between IHEU and UNESCO were represented by the IHEU delegation, headed by Jean Claude Pecker and Monique Wonner. Their action in defence of Humanism and rationalism is acknowledged by all in UNESCO as well as in IHEU.

A new delegation was set up in September, 2007 and immediately started preparing the 34th General Conference of UNESCO (16 October – 2 November) and a series of NGO Conferences and Forums on Civil Society (25 October) and on Sustainable Development (December 2007) which took place at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

IHEU has always taken part in UNESCO’s General Conferences every second year since the beginning of the institution.

However, in recent times and in spite of the speeches concerning the “involvement of NGOs in UNESCO” it was no easy task for NGOs such as IHEU to take the floor during all those events. The so-called commitment of UNESCO officials to “maintain the close and profitable collaboration between NGOs keeping up official relationships with UNESCO” proved to be just a smokescreen. Indeed, NGOs are allowed to take the floor, but they always have to share the few minutes left before the end of the sessions.

Is this freedom of speech? Is this democracy?

Besides, on the very first day of the 34th General Conference, the Chairman of the Conference stated his opening speech with these words: “In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful” and so on. Thus, the 34th General Conference of UNESCO was held under the patronage of Religion! In the recent period, in the whole UN system of institutions, faith-oriented speeches have been quite common and UNESCO was no exception.

Is this UNESCO’s tradition, based on the freedom of conscience, when a religious ideology is imposed in UNESCO’s General Conference?

Against all odds, IHEU delegates were able to make short interventions. And above all the delegation tried to set up a network of friendly NGOs so as to counterbalance the influence of the faith-oriented majority that now seems to prevail in UNESCO.

Recently, in October, 2008, on the occasion of a conference on Bioethics which took place at UNESCO headquarters, the IHEU delegation was able to witness a growing opposition to faith-oriented speeches. Two members of national committees on bioethics stood up in defence of medical research on stem cells against religious obscurantism.

Maybe this is the dawn of a new era, the beginning of a new awareness of what is at stake at UNESCO. This is the job of the IHEU delegation to continue the task to unite all those who do not accept the current situation in UNESCO and in the whole UN system and who are willing to safeguard science and faith-free education and culture in the world.

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