The UNESCO Executive Council completed its two-week long meetings in the French capital Paris yesterday, and passed the draft law "Respect for freedom of expression, sacred beliefs, values and religious and cultural symbols" prepared for this purpose. The document brought to the agenda by the Organization for Islamic Conference (OIC) has been feverishly discussed in UNESCO sessions by the European Union (EU), OIC and US for 10 days.
Though a consensus was reached at the end of negotiations, the EU put a "drawback" in the title of the document.
Certain EU countries are reported to have objected to the use of the expressions "sacred beliefs" and "religious symbols" in the title. The Executive Council, inviting UNESCO to fulfill the organization's commitment of respect towards freedom of expression as well as towards religious and cultural values in the 11-article document passed yesterday, wants efforts in this field to be strengthened.
The council asked for the development of mutual understanding to eradicate "the ignorance about other peoples' ways of life," and wants the organization to prepare an action plan in light of current international documents.
The council also asks the UNESCO General Directorate to accelerate the implementation of the plan among civilizations and cultures in order to "produce a culture of cohabitation and peace." The Executive Council decided to prepare a report on the issue next term.
The document emphasizes that freedom of expression must take place in "mutual respect and understanding," and calls for respect of cultural differences, religious beliefs and symbols. The document says a big task awaits the media in this regard. The fact that no reference is made to the controversial cartoons in the decision attracted notice. The OIC found "weak" UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura's statement on the cartoon crisis, which caused major reactions in the Muslim world, and brought the decision to UNESCO's agenda.
Turkey's Ambassador to UNESCO Numan Hazar made active contributions in the negotiation stage of the document. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a message he issued on Wednesday, said no individual or group may insult any religious symbol.