2016 to 2019


01. PM opens UNESCO seminar on ending crimes against journalists

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will inaugurate the UNESCO's main seminar for the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists in Colombo today.

The 2017 International Day to End Impunity main event, entitled “Reinforcing regional cooperation to promote freedom of expression and the rule of law in Asia through ending impunity for crimes against Journalists”, will be held at Taj Samudra.

The event will be organised by UNESCO and the Ministry of Finance and Mass Media, with the participation of various regional stakeholders including ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission of Human Rights (AICHR) and Human Rights Commissions’ representatives.

The one-day seminar will seek to advance dialogues and strategies to strengthen the regional cooperation on safety of journalists and ending impunity in Asia.

The event will focus on the role of the judiciary, National Human Rights Commissions as well as on the role of civil society and media in the persisting challenge of combating impunity for crimes against journalists in the region.

Through encouraging the exchange of best practices and identifying steps ahead and concrete solutions, the event aims to strengthen the fight of impunity for crimes against journalists in Asia and inscribe this issue in the larger framework to protect fundamental human rights.

The objective of the seminar will be to promote freedom of expression and the rule of law through fostering safety of journalists and ending impunity in Asia. This event falls under the global framework of the implementation of the UN Plan of Action on The Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, UN Resolutions and UNESCO Decisions on safety of journalists.

By increasing the safety of journalists, reinforcing the fight against impunity and raising awareness for international standards and regional cooperation, the project aims to contribute to fostering peace and security, good governance and the rule of law.

This comes also with the proposed actions outlined in the Outcome document of the Geneva Multi-Stakeholder Consultation (June 29, 2017).

The event in Colombo will help raising awareness amongst regional bodies, national authorities and institutions, civil society and media on the importance of solving cases of killed journalists in order to strengthen the rule of law and stop the culture of impunity in Asia. The Colombo event will also promote the exchange of knowledge and dialogues between national institutions (e.g. National Human Rights Commissions, judiciary institutions, specialized protection mechanisms), regional organizations (e.g. ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, ASEAN Parliamentarians), civil society (lawyers associations, journalist organizations) and media.  

02. South Asia Centre for Teacher Development Hosts Forum with UNESCO Director-General

Education is the most lasting foundation for dialogue, reconciliation and peace, and teachers are its champions, affirmed the Director-General Irina Bokova, during a public forum organized at the South Asian Centre for Teacher Development (SACTD) under UNESCO’s auspices, in Meepe, Sri Lanka, on 17 August, 2016.

The event was held in the presence of the Minister of Education, the Honorable Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Professor Maithree Wickremesinghe, from the University of Kelaniya, and Dr Jayanthi Gunasekara, Director-General of the National Institute of Education, which houses the Center established in 2014.

“I know the importance Sri Lanka attributes to education – this has deep roots in Sri Lankan society, and the country holds a leading place in education across South Asia,” said Ms Bokova. “All this is essential for inclusive and sustainable development, for social resilience – it is crucial to advance dialogue and respect, reconciliation and peace.”

She highlighted the key role of teachers in education. “Nothing can substitute for a good teacher. No new technology, no books. Teachers hold the key to quality education. Putting education first means putting teachers first.” She encouraged the South Asian Centre for Teacher Development to bolster support to teachers, including through professional development, capacity building, the piloting of inclusive education models and ICT competencies.

Affirming that education has a vital role to play in shaping social, cultural and political life and fostering social cohesion and positive attitudes towards diversity, Minister Kariyaswasam recalled Sri Lanka’s long history of provision. The main challenge is to act on shortcomings in education quality, he said, outlining current sector-wide reforms. His Ministry is introducing changes to extend compulsory education to 13 years, to establish “innovation-based schools,” and to tackle quality issues.

“The main driver of school achievement is the quality of teachers, and we need to develop their quality and efficiency. Our goal is not to send any untrained teacher to the classroom.”

In her richly documented presentation, Professor Maithree Wickremesinghe emphasized the need to develop teacher capacity for gender mainstreaming in education, ranging from training and pedagogies to curriculum, learning materials, study choice and school health and safety issues.

“We need to ask some hard questions on education when talking about gender. The South Asian Centre for Teacher Development could become a niche by championing the cause of gender mainstreaming in Asia, including through conducting training of trainers.”

Sharing her experience with setting up a Standing Committee for Universities on Gender Equality and Equity to influence policies in higher education, she noted the importance of a holistic approach, learning from experience, while warning about backlash because “at the core of gender mainstreaming is changing mindsets.”

The Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Mr W. Bandusena, explained that before the end of 2016, the South Asian Centre for Teacher Development will establish its Board and prepare an action plan to take its mandate forward.

During a separate meeting with the Hon. Lakshman Kiriella, Minister for Higher Education and Highways, the Director-General discussed cooperation on quality assurance in higher education, the diversification of systems to cater to rising demand, as well as efforts to ensure safe and conducive learning environments for students. (Source:

03. Director-General on Soft Power for Peace and Development with Sri Lanka’s Minister for Foreign Affairs

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova affirmed the key role of ‘soft power’ drivers to achieve Sri Lanka’s vision of sustainable development and reconciliation, during a public lecture at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies in Colombo, on 16 August, 2016.

The Director-General paid tribute to the late Mr Kadirgamar, Sri Lanka’s three times Foreign Minister, assassinated in 2005, as ‘a great statesman, and politician, a man of intellect and most of all a great humanist devoted to human rights and dignity, and to peace in Sri Lanka on the basis of respect and dialogue.” 

The Institute is one of his legacies, to provide insights and recommendations that advance justice, peace, prosperity and sustainability.

“These values have deep roots in Sri Lanka – they are interlinked and can only be taken forward together. This requires a new, comprehensive approach to human development and sustainability,” said Ms Bokova.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, the Honourable Mangala Samaraweera, recalled the inspiration that the late Mr Kadirgamar drew from the preamble of UNESCO’s Constitution on building peace in the minds of people, which he often quoted.

Minister Samaraweera noted that the Director-General’s comes at « an important juncture, as we seek to build a new Sri Lanka that protects  human rights and dignity, celebrates the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural nature of our society, empowers women, upholds rule of law and freedom of the media, preserves the environment and gives priority to ensuring the best education possible. »

He noted that Sri Lanka enjoys a special relationship with UNESCO, having become a member in 1949, six years before it joined the United Nations. 

Today, as never before, he said, « we are following the principles of UNESCO in the reconciliation and development process. »

Recalling that Sri Lanka has suffered the terrible costs of 26 years of conflict, the Director-General affirmed that “the country is guided today by a new vision of peace, build on respect, on dialogue, on promoting a new horizon for all women and mean, drawing on Sri Lanka’s rich and great history of diversity,” said the Director-General. “I wish to pledge here UNESCO’s support to Sri Lanka in all its efforts to consolidate gains, to catalyze new progress.”

She outlined the promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Climate Change Agreement, and cited the scope of UNESCO’s partnership with Sri Lanka to take it forward, including through the South Asian Centre for Teacher Development at Meepe, the South and Central Asian Man and the Biosphere Network, the promotion of cultural heritage through eight sites inscribed on the World Heritage List, and the recent passing of the Right to Information Act.

“I look forward to deepening UNESCO’s partnership with Sri Lanka,” she said, especially to advance education for peace and human rights, to bolster reconciliation through new skills for understanding and solidarity, to strengthen resilience through scientific cooperation, and to promote cultural heritage and diversity as platforms for dialogue, as well as freedom of expression."

Ahead of the lecture, Ms Bokova voiced her support for the work of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanism. 

Its Secretary-General, Mr Mano Tittawella, outlined a range of measures to establish transitional justice mechanisms that will function as independent institutions; to promote national unity and reconciliation; to coordinate with international agencies and lead grassroots consultation and communication campaigns.

The Director-General identified entry points for UNESCO, in particular through education for peace and human rights, work with youth, and collaboration with its networks and institutes, including the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development in New Delhi and the Asia-Pacific Centre of Education for International Understanding in Seoul. (Source:

04. Director-General Visits World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle

The Director-General began her first official visit to Sri Lanka on 14 August 2016 with a circuit around the “cultural triangle”, home to several of the country’s eight World Heritage Sites.

Accompanied by the Minister of Education, the Honourable Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Chairperson of the National Commission for UNESCO, she visited the  Ancient City of Polonnaruwa and the Rock Fortress of Sigiriya, followed by Kandy's Dalada Maligawa temple, where she viewed the Sacred Tooth of the Buddha relic shrine in the presence of its Custodian and the Chief Minister of the Central Province.

At each of the sites, she commended authorities for their commitment to protect and preserve this heritage of outstanding universal value. 

«Cultural heritage has a huge role to place in Sri Lanka’s reconciliation, peace and development process. It carries a powerful message about identity, values and dialogue,» said Ms Bokova. «This is why it is so important to bring this heritage into young hands, so they take pride in its value and understand the importance of its protection.» 

She also noted its significance for local people, reflected in the flocks of visitors from around the country touring the sites and adjacent museums. 

«Culture also carries real economic benefits. The challenge is to develop sustainable tourism, which benefits local communities, while also sharing these treasures with the world, » said Ms Bokova.

The heritage reflects Sri Lanka’s cultural and religious diversity, artistic refinement and architectural singularity. In Polonarruwa, the country's capital from 11th to 13th century, eminent archaeologist Dr Roland Silva, founder of the country’s Central Cultural Fund, presented highlights of this vast ancient city, including the colossal rock-cut Buddha images at Gal Vihara‎, the remains of Buddhist and Hindu shrines, the storied royal place and a sophisticated irrigation system. 

In Sigirya, one of the most important urban planning sites of the first millennium, dating back to the 5th century, she viewed the Gateway to the Lion’s Rock, a royal palace and fortress culminating at over 200 meters, its graceful frescoes in a sheltered gallery within the rock’s face and on the ground, one of the oldest landscaped gardens in the world.

Adjacent to the Dalada Maligawa temple in Kandy, the Director-General also visited the International Museum of World Buddhism and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Peradeniya. 

The Central Province is home also to the country’s oldest and largest institutions of higher learning, the University of Peradeniya, where the Director-General had a rich exchange with Vice-Chancellor Mr Upul Dissanayake and faculty deans on how to bridge gaps between research and policy, between degrees and job opportunities, and between humanities and the sciences.  

Against the backdrop of the sustainable development agenda and the forces of globalization, the Director-General encouraged a transdisciplinary approach and the strengthening of inter-university collaboration, including through the UNITWIN programme. 

She toured part of the vast campus, counting 12,500 undergraduate students, including the library that holds a collection of palm leaf manuscripts with Buddhist scriptures in Pali, dating back over 1,000 years.

The Director-General was accompanied throughout this visit by the Ambassador and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO Mr Tilak Ranaviraja. (Source: