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UN Official Urges Protection Of Iraqi Academics

UN Official Urges Protection Of Iraqi Academics Threatened By Violence

New York, Apr 14 2006

The Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today appealed for international support to Iraqi academics and intellectuals and called for measures to protect them from a "heinous campaign of violence."

Koïchiro Matsuura's appeal followed a meeting he had in Paris with Muhyi Alkateeb, Iraq's Ambassador to UNESCO, and representatives of two international networks of intellectuals advocating the protection of Iraqi academics who described the impact of threats, kidnappings and killings on the educational community.

According to the Center for the Arab and Mediterranean World, some 180 academics have been killed in Iraq since 2003 and thousands more have been driven into exile.

Many are prevented from carrying out their work and are considering leaving the country at a time when their contribution to the reconstruction of Iraq is badly needed, participants at the UNESCO meeting said. They further pointed out that deteriorating security on campuses was undermining academic life for students as well.

"I call on the international community," the Director-General declared, "to show solidarity with Iraqi academics and intellectuals who are subjected to a heinous campaign of violence."

During the meeting, the Ambassador asked Mr. Matsuura for assistance in raising awareness and international support for Iraqi academics. The UNESCO chief responded positively, noting that Iraq "has long been at the forefront of thought and learning in the Middle East" and pledging the agency's commitment "to doing all it can to help in the reconstruction of its educational system and the development of its capacities."

UNESCO said its Office for Iraq has been increasingly engaged with the Iraqi authorities to create an international network of solidarity between Iraqi and foreign universities. UNESCO has also been channelling material an Iraq's educational system.

In another development, UNESCO's Executive Board ended its session in Paris yesterday with the adoption of a decision urging mutual respect for cultural diversity, religious beliefs and religious symbols. "For the first time in many weeks, a consensus has been achieved within an intergovernmental forum on an issue that has seriously troubled efforts of dialogue and rapprochement among cultures and civilizations," the Director-General said in a communiqué.


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