Bokova's Speech

Bokova's Speech

March 9, 2012
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UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova expressed her serious concerns following a divided vote by the UNESCO Executive Board to approve a renamed UNESCO-Obiang prize.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

In my view, prizes should be platforms that bring States together around the pursuit of common objectives and the projection of shared values.

This is the first time ever in the history of the Organization that the Executive Board takes a vote on a Prize. 

This is the first time a Prize divides Member States, instead of uniting them.

Divisions have extended outside the Executive Board.

The Prize has raised controversy from across the world.

It has received also serious criticism, and of course some help.

It has received criticism especially, I must underline, from within the scientific community, including from a number of Nobel Prize laureates.

It is the first time that three members of the International Jury have declined their participation as Jury members for this Prize.

This is unprecedented.

On 17 February, 2012, Professor E. Balazs, Chairman of the International Jury, wrote to me to offer his resignation from the chairmanship of the Jury.

This, Ladies and Gentlemen, has never happened before in UNESCO.

These are very difficult ‘firsts’ for the Organization.

I regret that the Executive Board could not find a consensus on this matter.

I regret this vote, because it occurs at an acutely difficult time for this Organization.

UNESCO is living a turning point.

Current financial difficulties call for the best of us all.

They call for the greatest possible solidarity between all Member States.

They place, I would say, a premium on our collective responsibility.

The responsibility to overcome differences for the greater good.

The responsibility to bridge divisions for the sake of moving forward together.

The decision to vote on this Prize plays to our weaknesses at a time when we need to be strong.

The decision to vote deepens divisions at a moment when I really believe we have to be united.

I believe it is my responsibility as Director-General to express these points to you.

I sincerely hope such decisions will be avoided in the future. 

I sincerely hope that consensus will prevail on such issues and especially on establishing prizes.

In view of the debate and should the Executive Board adopt the decision tomorrow, I will be obliged to seek legal advice on how to proceed in the future. 

Thank you. 

Irina Bokova

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