Switzerland's 70-year membership of UNESCO – Ignazio Cassis speaks of UNESCO's exceptional power of mobilisation and the need for reform

Bern, 17.06.2019 - On Monday, at an event in Bern to mark Switzerland's 70-year membership of UNESCO, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis acknowledged "the commitment of those who work for the preservation of memory and development of knowledge". Speaking to an audience of representatives from international organisations, federal offices, the cantons and civil society, Mr Cassis highlighted UNESCO's power of mobilisation and the need for reform to address the challenges of the digital age. He also referred to Switzerland's candidacy for election to the UNESCO Executive Board for the period 2020–23.

Mr Cassis was speaking in the lead-up to five conferences taking place in Bern from 18 to 20 June, hosted by the Swiss Commission for UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, which was also established some 70 years ago.

Mr Cassis reminded the audience that Switzerland joined UNESCO as a neutral state on 28 January 1949 to "collaborate in efforts to bring people closer together and get them to talk to each other in a language other than the language of fear, hatred or force." He referred to UNESCO's great achievements, for example its role in setting up CERN, and the wide range of projects currently supported by Switzerland through UNESCO, including water management, freedom of expression, access to high-quality education and the protection of endangered cultural heritage.

Citing the many UNESCO-sponsored initiatives in Switzerland, ranging from biosphere reserves, schools and universities to the various expressions of cultural, natural and documentary heritage, Mr Cassis emphasised "the wealth of cultural, natural and scientific resources in Switzerland that we are working to protect and share with the world through education and communication." 

He also alluded to Switzerland's candidacy for the UNESCO Executive Board and its resolve to contribute to UNESCO's effectiveness in the context of UN reform and find positive responses to the challenges posed by new technology. He concluded by expressing support for the National Commissions for UNESCO tasked with building on UNESCO's work in their various countries. Switzerland will be hosting the next interregional meeting of National Commissions in Lugano in May 2020.

President of the Swiss National Commission for UNESCO Jean-Bernard Münch, the Mayor of Bern, Alec von Graffenried, and Firmin Edouard Matoko, UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for the Africa Department and External Relations, also spoke at the event. The speakers talked about the history of Switzerland's relationship with UNESCO and Switzerland's latest initiatives at national and international level to assist the implementation of UNESCO programmes.

To mark the 70th anniversary of Switzerland's membership of UNESCO, the Swiss Commission for UNESCO is hosting five thematic conferences to take place between 18 and 20 June 2019. The conferences will be held in a purpose-built marquee on Waisenhausplatz in Bern. The marquee will also serve as the venue for an exhibition and as a meeting point for discussion between 9.30am and 7pm on Tuesday 18 June and Wednesday 19 June and between 9.30am and 2pm on Thursday 20 June. For further information and registration: www.unesco.ch.

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