National statement of the Kingdom of the Netherlands at the 196th Executive Board

National Statement of the Kingdom of the Netherlands at UNESCO’s 196th Executive Board by H.E. Lionel Veer, Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to UNESCO.

Protection of Cultural Heritage in Conflict Areas and protection of Freedom of Expression, these are the two priorities for the Netherlands.

Within the UN family UNESCO has the lead in these areas and this puts a heavy responsibility on the strong shoulders of the Director General and her staff, but also on us the member states.

Political attention and political will at the highest levels is needed. I compliment DG Bokova for her relentless efforts to bring this to the attention of the international community. When the Dutch Minister for Education, Culture and Science met DG Bokova some weeks ago, she gave her full support for UNESCO’s efforts in this field.

In the Netherlands we contribute in a concrete manner, not only through our Cultural Heritage Inspectorate and Custom services, but also by organizing together with the Dutch National UNESCO Commission, the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, also known as ICCROM, the Smithsonian Institute and Dutch Cultural heritage institutions a First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Crisis training course in Amsterdam. As we speak Cultural Heritage experts from 20 countries, from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Egypt, the Philippines, the Caribbean and many other countries are working together to learn how they can better protect heritage in case of conflict or disaster.

The political attention for Freedom of expression has accelerated these last few months and the focus on UNESCO has been very strong. Fortunately UNESCO was well prepared because a group of excellent people has been working on these issues for years already. I am sure that UNESCO, the secretariat, the IPDC and IFAP will be able to contribute to the advancement of the debate on Freedom of Expression.

The right to freedom of opinion and expression is as much a fundamental right, as it is an “enabler” of other rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to education and the right to take part in cultural life and to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, as well as civil and political rights, such as the rights to freedom of association and assembly.

Freedom of Expression, including the safety of journalists and other media workers online and offline, is a priority for the Netherlands. Safety of journalists is crucial for the functioning of democratic states and the accountability of governments. Like DG Bokova said at the Journalism after Charlie event: Over the past decade, around 700 journalists have been killed worldwide. This is one journalist, every week. And even worse, 9 out of 10 of these cases go unpunished. This impunity emboldens the perpetrators of the crimes and at the same time has a chilling effect on society. Impunity breeds impunity and feeds into a vicious cycle.

Like the right to freedom of expression, also the right to education is an ‘enabler’ of other rights. We welcome the recently published Education for All- Global Monitoring Report that illustrates the progress achieved so far towards reaching Education for All, but it also reveals the many challenges that remain. We are happy to see the worldwide movement towards greater gender parity in education; nevertheless the Netherlands expresses serious concern regarding the high number of child marriages and the widespread gender based violence in and around schools, which prevents millions of children worldwide from fulfilling their potential. In this context we put great importance to our cooperation with UNESCO regarding the fight against discrimination and bullying at schools, often related to the sexual orientation of children.

I would like to finish with some final remarks. The Kingdom of the Netherlands is partly located in the Caribbean and we feel strongly connected to the problems the Small Island Development States (SIDS) face. We support the initiative of a UNESCO plan of action for the SIDS and try to contribute actively. In the Dutch part of the Caribbean there is a great interest for disaster risk reduction as well as for the development of intangible cultural heritage and the Netherlands government looks for possibilities for regional cooperation in this field.

Secondly, we believe that more synergies between the culture conventions could be established, for instance by further reducing the frequency of meetings or by creating one single fund for human resources of the conventions. We are therefore pleased with the Secretariat’s initiative to organise a consultation meeting with the Chairpersons of the Convention’s Statutory Bodies at the upcoming 39th session of the World Heritage Committee in Bonn.

Finally, at the risk of sounding like the Roman senator Cato with his famous ‘ceterum censeo’, I finish with saying that I still believe that a ZNG budget is the best option and that the reform process of UNESCO needs to go on full steam.

Thank you for your attention.