Leader Profile: Koichiro Matsuura, Director-General, UNESCO

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was founded on 16 November 1945. Koichiro Matsuura was appointed as Director-General of the organization by the General Conference in November 1999.


UNESCO serves as a laboratory of ideas and a standard-setter to forge universal agreements on emerging ethical issues. It also serves as a clearinghouse – for the dissemination and sharing of information and knowledge – and helps Member States to build their human and institutional capacity. The main areas of the organization’s work include education, natural sciences, social and human sciences, and communication and information. It also includes culture as a theme, and is responsible for overseeing the World Heritage sites. Koichiro said, “Cultural industries are an important means for sharing and nurturing such cultural diversity.”


As head of UNESCO, Koichiro is a keen promoter of culture as an essential part of development. In his inaugural address as Director-General in 1999 he asserted, “UNESCO is a factor of hope, because it is the one international organization which, through all its programs, respects and defends what is of universal worth and dignity in the material and spiritual heritage of all cultures, and thereby, the absolute dignity of all human beings themselves.” It is a sentiment he stands by, he said, “Our approach must be open and innovative. It must also be inclusive of the multiple actors who help to keep our cultural diversity alive. Archaeologists, historians, philosophers, as well as architects, writers and film makers: all have a role to play in the rediscovery, communication and creation of cultural heritage.”


Koichiro, a Japanese national, began his diplomatic career in 1959 and served as Japan’s Ambassador to France since 1994. He was educated at the Law Faculty of the University of Tokyo and at the Faculty of Economics of Haverford College in Pennsylvania, USA. He held the post of Director-General of the Economic Cooperation Bureau of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1988, Director-General of the North American Affairs Bureau, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs. Immediately prior to his current post he was Chairperson of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee for a year.


In the future, Koichiro believes that there remains a great deal for UNESCO to carry out. “The culture of prevention that it is UNESCO’s mission to build through education, science and culture is still very far from being accepted by the public conscience. It is not yet a reality,” Koichiro said. He further said, “Education is fundamental to peace-building. Education for peace, human rights and democracy is inseparable from a style of teaching which imparts to the young, and the less young, attitudes of dialog and non-violence; in other words, one which teaches them about the values of tolerance, openness to others and sharing.”

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