The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) marked its 75th anniversary with a star-studded cast of artists and world leaders. Among the participants was American actor Forest Whitaker, a Unesco Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation since 2011.
His organization, the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative, works jointly with Unesco in South Sudan, Uganda and Mexico—areas affected by conflict and violence. In 2012, the WPDI launched the Conflict Resolution Education program in the U.S. In South Sudan, the WPDI trained former child soldiers and orphans to become peacemakers for their communities.
Speaking at a special ceremony, he challenged the listeners. “If you see the beauty of the people that lies in every individual, you will wonder how racism could ever exist,” he began. “If you see the beauty that lies in a vibrant school, you will wonder how could we not have education for all. If you see the beauty that lies in a live coral reef or an old forest, you will wonder how could we not preserve that for our future generations?
“If you see the beauty that lies in an old city, a sacred site , a cave painted 20,000 years ago, you will wonder how could senseless destruction be waged on the heritage of any nation of people.”
Musicians who followed the speaker were American cellist Yo Yo Ma and Beninese singer-songwriter Angelique Kidjo, among others.
Another project of Unesco, the Biennale of Luanda, will be celebrated this year under the African Union’s 2021 theme, “Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want” and is available virtually from the Unesco website.
In a message shown during the event, the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres observed that Unesco “was born as a pillar of the United Nations system, in the wake of one of the darkest chapters in human history”—namely two world wars. A conviction was born that political and economic arrangements between States are not enough to build lasting peace.
“Reconciliation and development require stronger foundations, deeply rooted in societal interactions, and built upon intellectual and moral solidarity,” the agency explains.
Working with a diverse set of partners, Guterres said, Unesco is forging a new social contract for education and lifelong learning.
The agency is also developing new tools to combat hate speech and misinformation while launching flagship initiatives in Iraq and Lebanon, using education and heritage to heal and rebuild.
The international body has 50 field offices and a world headquarters located at number 7, Place de Fontenoy in Paris, France. Its General Conference, underway in Paris until Nov. 24, is also marking the anniversary with global recommendations on the ethics of artificial intelligence and on open science.