COVID-19 and multilateralism: Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis talks to UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay

Press release, 28.10.2020

On 28 October 2020, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis spoke by telephone with UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay in Paris. The respective heads of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization discussed the impact of the pandemic crisis on multilateralism and UNESCO's strategic preparations in response to global challenges.

UNESCO is an international body in which Switzerland is particularly active. Switzerland was once again elected as member of UNESCO's Executive Board last autumn. Its mandate is particularly important as it coincides with the preparation of the organisation's upcoming strategy for 2022–2029. The COVID-19 crisis represents an institutional challenge in this regard. Mr Cassis called for new working methods to be developed so that multilateralism can continue to play its key role despite the crisis. "As the pandemic threatens many sectors of society, UNESCO's role in promoting reliable science and information is more necessary than ever," he said.

Ms Azoulay explained what action the organisation had taken in response to COVID-19. Mr Cassis welcomed these initiatives, which aim to foster educational continuity and support the arts during the crisis. He also welcomed UNESCO's swift reaction in identifying urgent needs in Beirut's education system and cultural heritage following the devastating explosion on 4 August.

Mr Cassis and Ms Azoulay also discussed a number of current issues, such as the preparation by UNESCO of a recommendation on the ethics of artificial intelligence and the reform of the International Bureau of Education in Geneva. Mr Cassis highlighted the importance of International Geneva for cooperation with UNESCO.

Last year, Switzerland celebrated the 70th anniversary of its accession to UNESCO. On that occasionoccasion, Mr Cassis reminded the audience that Switzerland joined UNESCO as a neutral state on 28 January 1949 to "collaborate in efforts to bring people closer together and get them to talk to each other in a language other than the language of fear, hatred or force."

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Federal Department of Foreign Affairs