TRUE VALUES

Costa Rica 2017 | DIPLOMACY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Irina Bokova, General Director of UNESCO, on the common values shared with Costa Rica.

Irina Bokova
BIOGRAPHY
Irina Bokova, a national of Bulgaria, has been the Director-General of UNESCO since November 15, 2009, and was successfully reelected for a second term in 2013. She is the first woman and the first Eastern European to lead the Organization. As Director-General of UNESCO, she is actively engaged in international efforts to advance gender equality, quality education for all, and combat the financing of terrorism by preventing the illicit traffic of cultural goods. A leading champion in the fight against racism and anti-Semitism, Bokova has spearheaded UNESCO’s activities on Holocaust remembrance and awareness and is the first Director-General of the Organization to appoint a Special Envoy for Holocaust Education.

Costa Rica and UNESCO have always shared core common values such as a commitment to peace and development. How do you evaluate the contribution of Costa Rica to the Organization?

Costa Rica has a long and deep commitment to UNESCO. Our partnership builds on shared values such as on human rights and dignity and cuts across Costa Rica's government and society, including the National Commission for UNESCO, the Ministry of Education, and private and non-governmental partners. We see this in Costa Rica's leadership of the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Program, which supports efforts to safeguard natural and managed ecosystems and advance innovative approaches to economic development that are socially and culturally appropriate and environmentally sustainable. This is deeply relevant in the context of the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate that was adopted in December 2015, not to mention the new UN Development Agenda for 2030.

UNESCO's field office in San José works toward achieving the organization's goals in the region of Latin America and the Caribbean. What are the main aspects of UNESCO activities in the region?

The UNESCO San José Office works with five countries in the region, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. Our action stretches across the spectrum from providing technical cooperation through capacity development (for example, for Ministries of Education and Planning) to supporting public policy development (for example, through the revision of education policies in the light of the 2030 Agenda) and knowledge generation (in Technical and Vocational Education and Training, teacher training, early childhood education, and children out of school). The activities of the UNESCO San José Office have enabled the Central American region to receive effective and rapid responses to direct assistance when needed. An example of the challenge of social inclusion is where UNESCO has been active in supporting the capacities and engagement of youth as well as indigenous people. UNESCO works across the region to combat discrimination and racism and to deepen tolerance and mutual respect, especially for marginalized communities. All of this work is the result of partnerships with governments and societies across the region—including the private sector—which are all brought together by shared values, a commitment to build more inclusive and peaceful societies, and a new harmony with the planet and the region's unique biodiversity and outstanding cultural heritage and diversity. This includes a sharp focus on supporting freedom of expression, enhancing the safety of journalists, advancing scientific cooperation, notably on water management and risk reduction, and education for peace and human rights.

At its 40th session, the World Heritage Committee decided not to put the Costa Rica-Panama trans-boundary Reserve of Talamanca La Amistad on the List of endangered sites until the committee does further evaluation in 2017. What factors led to this decision, and what other sites are now being evaluated?

During the 40th session of the World Heritage Committee, which took place in Istanbul in July 2016, members examined the state of conservation of more than 150 World Heritage properties. Members welcomed the commitment of Panama and Costa Rica to the safeguarding of World Heritage, as evidenced by the constructive dialogue established by both states' parties in the framework of the recently launched joint Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) process. The committee decided to support these efforts by providing an additional year for both state parties to complete the SEA, which will no doubt strengthen their relationship and relations with local communities and NGOs. Although the state parties have made a strong commitment to developing appropriate mechanisms in order to avoid and mitigate any negative impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, the Committee reiterated its position that any development of new hydropower projects prior to the finalization and adequate review of the SEA for the entire property would lead to its inscription on the World Heritage List in Danger.