Expo 2020 Dubai celebrating human fraternity is deeply significant, Ex-UNESCO chief says

World fair to hold special events, discussions on how Human Fraternity committee is advancing women’s empowerment and opportunities for youth.

Irina Bokova, former Director-General of UNESCO, and member of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity. Supplied photo
Irina Bokova, former Director-General of UNESCO, and member of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity. Supplied photo

Anjana Sankar

Published: Thu 3 Feb 2022, 4:24 PM

Celebrating the International Day of Humanitarian Fraternity at Expo 2020 hosted by the economically dynamic and culturally diverse UAE is ‘deeply significant’ for humanity, Irina Bokova, former Director-General of UNESCO, and member of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity (HCHF), told Khaleej Times.

“I think it is a very good coincidence. A happy coincidence,” said Bokova in an exclusive interview to the paper.

“United Arab Emirates is a very dynamic country, and they have made a huge leap into the future. It is very pro UN and pro multilateralism. This is a country that hosts 200 nationalities and strongly supports many international initiatives,”

She said she was “lucky enough” to witness history being made in front of her eyes when two years ago Pope Francis of the Catholic Church and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar Mosque, signed the Human Fraternity Document in Abu Dhabi for world peace, also known as the Abu Dhabi declaration.

The 11-member Higher Committee, which Bokova is part of, was established to achieve the objectives of the Document of Human Fraternity.

Currently, she is in the UAE to celebrate the UN-recognised International Day of Human Fraternity that will be observed worldwide for the second time on February 4.

Expo 2020 will hold special events and discussions on how HCHF is advancing women’s empowerment and opportunities for youth, and significant challenges facing human fraternity in 2022.

Bokova said she is happy to be at the world fair which serves an international platform to relaunch initiatives around crucial challenges facing the world.

“Expo is a par excellence international platform to unite people. And the United Arab Emirates is using the opportunity well to reignite international initiatives of cooperation that will bring humanity closer and put the spotlight on many crucial challenges the world faces after two years of pandemic. Important issues like technology, innovation, education, gender inclusivity and other sustainable development goals need to be addressed,” said Bokova who was the Director- General of UNESCO for two terms from 2009 to 2017. She is also the first Eastern European to lead the organisation.

She said the timing of the International Day has come at a time when “important questions about tolerance, mutual respect, solidarity, empathy… and these values are a little bit put aside” by governments in the hurry to cope with the economic fallout from the COVID crisis and its impacts.

“But I think there should be really somebody all the time to remind us that this is a very important aspect. In that sense, the Human Fraternity Document offers us that moral compass,” she said.

As someone who tirelessly worked to preserve and protect tangible and intangible heritage and culture, Bokova said she understands the importance of creating “big spaces of shared cultures.”

“Culture can divide, and culture can unite. And I think, if you look at culture only in isolation, as some kind of exclusivity and purity, it is very misleading.”


Drawing attention to the World Heritage Site list that the UN drew up that has as many as 1200 sites from 167 countries, she said the diversity of human existence is stunning in the cultural representations.

“It is one of the most extraordinary visions that UNESCO and the United Nations launched to the world that you may belong to one culture, one religion, one ethnicity, but you can admire other cultures, because it represents outstanding universal value. So, this feeling of common humanity, is what at the basis of the world fairs like Expo and it is crucial to remind us about our common humanity,” she said.

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