The statement, made by Humanists International’s Director of Advocacy, Elizabeth O’Casey, was delivered during the General Policy debate of UNESCO’s 42nd General Conference a couple of days before International Day for Tolerance. In it, she highlighted the proliferation of exclusionary narratives and policies founded in intolerance, and used for othering minorities and often-marginalized groups, including migrants, and sexual, racial, and belief minorities.
She said, “Hijacked values of “family” and “tradition” are championed, and “parental rights” and national sovereignty are prioritized in the place of an international human rights framework grounded in concepts of equality, dignity, autonomy, and diversity.”
She also noted the fact that as part of this opposition to progress on human rights, the multilateral institutions which exist to uphold human rights are targeted; “their legitimacy questioned and capacity to function undermined and disrupted through defunding and misrepresentation.”
In this vein, she highlighted how UNESCO’s work on gender equality, reproductive rights, and comprehensive sexuality education has been the subject of disinformation and smear campaigns by those seeking to undermine progress on human rights standards and evidence-based education.
O’Casey reminded the Conference that UNESCO’s Declaration of Principles on Tolerance, made 28 years ago, recognizes education as “the most effective means of preventing intolerance.” The Declaration states that education should counter “influences that lead to fear and exclusion,” and help “develop capacities for independent judgment, critical thinking and ethical reasoning.” O’Casey urged States to reaffirm their commitment to this Declaration and support UNESCO and other UN bodies working to promote progressive values and human rights in the face of coordinated global opposition.
The General Conference of UNESCO sets the programme and budget of the Organization and is held at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris every two years. The 42nd session of the General Conference met from 7th to 22nd November 2023. UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.