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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s address to the General Meeting of the Commission of the Russian Federation for UNESCO, Moscow, April 25, 2016

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It is a pleasure to welcome you to this latest General Meeting of the Commission of the Russian Federation for UNESCO.

As you know, the situation in the world today is far from simple, and humanitarian cooperation is thus a vital part of the efforts to improve international relations and prevent the emergence of splits along civilisational and sectarian lines. There can be no overstating UNESCO’s role in this context as the humanitarian buttress of the UN system and a unique multilateral forum for promoting fundamental moral values and protecting cultural heritage and the environment.

Last year, we celebrated UNESCO’s 70th anniversary. This was a major milestone in our work to deepen our fruitful cooperation with this organisation. This work received a great impetus from the two meetings between Russian President Vladimir Putin and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. Successful examples of these joint efforts included Russia’s hosting of the 4th session of the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board, a kind of “council of wise men” tasked with drafting recommendations on the global challenges we face today. Last year, Russia also hosted the Third All-Russia Congress of UNESCO Chairs, and the 4th St Petersburg International Cultural Forum, also marking the organisation’s 70th anniversary.

As of late, we are witnessing the ever-increasing politicisation of humanitarian exchanges and discriminatory measures against figures from the cultural and arts world and journalists. It is our conviction that such actions directly violate people’s rights to cultural and intellectual contacts. In this respect, at the 38th session of the UNESCO General Conference, where Russia was elected to the Executive Council for a new four-year term, we proposed the adoption of a document in support of free exchange and cooperation in culture and the arts in full conformity with UNESCO’s values and ideals.

This session also approved the Strategy for Reinforcing UNESCO’s Action for the Protection of Culture and the Promotion of Cultural Pluralism in the Event of Armed Conflict. This document reflects our approaches and offers a good foundation for deepening dialogue with UNESCO on this vital issue. Building on this document, the St Petersburg Cultural Forum adopted the Declaration on the Protection of Culture in Armed Conflict Zones.

We are most pleased with the unanimous decision of the UNESCO Executive Board regarding UNESCO’s role in safeguarding and preserving Palmyra and other Syrian world heritage sites adopted recently after Russia’s initiative, which includes a range of measures to protect and restore historical heritage sites in Syria. It is satisfactory that dozens of countries, including the United States, France and Britain, have joined this decision as co-sponsors. Under this decision, a UNESCO mission of an international team of experts, including permanent representatives to UNESCO, will be sent to Syria to assess the damage with a view to developing a concrete plan of necessary restoration and rehabilitation works. As you know, the State Hermitage Museum, the Research Institute for Cultural and Natural Heritage named after Dmitry Likhachev (Heritage Institute) and other concerned institutions have declared their willingness to contribute to these efforts. Conditions for sending UNESCO experts to Palmyra will be created in the near future. We maintain contact with UNESCO governing bodies on this issue.

The latest session of the UNESCIO General Conference, which I have mentioned, launched the adaptation of UNESCO programme activity to the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. I believe that contributing to these efforts should become a priority of our cooperation with UNESCO, primarily in education. A big step towards this goal is the large UNESCO conference on the use of mineral resources for sustainable development, which will be held at the National Mineral Resources University (Mining University) in St Petersburg in July.

As per the instructions of President of Russia Vladimir Putin on creating a permanent venue for Eurasian cultural cooperation, an international conference Intercultural Dialogue in the Eurasian Space will be held in the Republic of Bashkortostan in May. Its agenda includes discussion on intercultural cooperation in the framework of the UNESCO Silk Road project.

We have been working consistently to strengthen Russia’s standing in one of UNESCO’s key bodies, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), in particular in view of the appointment of Vladimir Ryabinin as IOC Executive Secretary and the election of Alexander Postnov as Deputy Director of the IOC Executive Council. The election of Valery Neronov as vice-chairperson of the International Coordinating Council of the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme has expanded our opportunities under this programme.

We should also use the opportunities offered by membership of the Bureau of the Intergovernmental Council of the Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Programme, the Intergovernmental Bioethics Committee and the Intergovernmental Council of the International Hydrological Programme to push forward Russia’s priorities.

The 38th session of the UNESCO General Conference also approved the Statutes of the International Geosciences and Geoparks Programme, incorporating UNESCO Global Geoparks into the organisation’s geological programme. In this context, it has been proposed that the Russian National Committee for UNESCO’s Geoscience Programme at the Russian Academy of Science be reorganised into the Russian National Committee for UNESCO’s International Geosciences and Geoparks Programme and that this committee be co-chaired by Mikhail Fedonkin, Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Geological Institute, and Oleg Petrov, Director of the Karpinsky Russian Geological Research Institute. I hope we will discuss these proposals and adopt decisions on them today.

It is gratifying that Russian regions have shown interest in this area of UNESCO activities. For example, Bashkortostan, which I have mentioned before, is preparing an application for the launch of Russia’s first geopark in the area of Bashkortostan’s isolated hills (shihan).

Information society and information security are key issues on UNESCO’s agenda. This is only logical as information and communication technologies are seriously influencing all aspects of our lives. In this connection I suggest that we expand our contribution to intergovernmental programmes Information for All and Memory of the World. It is especially important to increase our involvement in the International Programme for the Development of Communication, which is concerned, in part, with the rights of journalists. We should probably consider adding experts on the humanitarian aspects of the information society to the scientific council on information security at the Russian Security Council. I suggest that we discuss the relevant proposals. If we come to an agreement, we will submit our proposal to the executive office of the National Security Council.

Our agenda for the near term includes several large international events, including the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students in Moscow and Sochi, the 6th International Conference of Ministers and Senior Officials Responsible for Physical Education and Sport (MINEPS VI) in Kazan, the international conference Media and Information Literacy for Fostering Open Government Culture in Khanty-Mansiysk, and the Delphic Games. I am convinced that if we host these events successfully this will help strengthen the atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding on the international stage, promote an objective image of Russia and strengthen its status as a major cultural power.

Of course, the agenda of our partnership with UNESCO is not limited to the above issues alone, although the list is impressive. I am convinced that by working together we will be able to further promote our cooperation for a more active use of UNESCO’s creative potential in the interests of peace, stability and development.

Thank you.