Unesco body puts words before weapons

June 16, 2006

An alternative to academic boycotts as a way of resolving conflicts comes a step closer this weekend when the UK's National Commission for Unesco is inaugurated at Nottingham University.

The commission, to be formally launched at a conference hosted by the university on Saturday, acts as a link between the international Unesco body, the Government and UK institutions. Its aim is to promote Unesco's principles of dialogue and co-operation ahead of partisan actions such as boycotts.

John Morgan, a commission member and holder of the Unesco chair of the political economy of education at Nottingham, said the body's fundamental task was to create a culture of peace by focusing on the need to transform the cultural roots of violence and war.

He said: "The UK is committed to the Unesco mission, with the National Commission conference (serving as) the civil society focus for this. This should lead it to eschew partisanship, together with naive boycotts, in favour of dialogue and co-operation.

"The objective must be to change values, attitudes and behaviour (that is) based on hatred and violence to those that promote peace and non-violence."

Professor Morgan has been directly involved in the Palestinian European Academic Co-operation in Education (Peace), a programme established in 1991 to support threatened Palestinian universities on the basis of the universal right to education.

Another initiative, the Israeli-Palestinian Science Organisation, grew out of a Unesco round-table meeting, Science for Peace in the Middle East.

"Such specific examples show what Unesco can achieve if the spirit of its founders is reawakened," Professor Morgan said.

The Labour Government rejoined Unesco in 1997, but the UK National Commission was shut in March 2003 by Clare Short, who was Secretary of State for International Development at the time. It was relaunched by her successor, Hilary Benn, in 2004.

Timothy Craddock, Britain's Ambassador to Unesco, is due to address the conference, as is Alec Boksenberg, chair of the UK National Commission and honorary professor of astronomy at Cambridge University. Mr Benn is also due to speak.

The Times Higher is sponsor of a drinks reception that opens the event.

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