Khoury Lacoeuilhe: Why I should lead UNESCO

Susannah Walden| The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Gearing up for the last phase of the election process to determine the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s 11th director-general, Lebanese candidate Vera El Khoury Lacoeuilhe said she’s busy and focused. “Sometimes I wish I had my [old] life back,” she told The Daily Star in a recent interview. She was speaking during a brief, jam-packed visit to her native Lebanon from her base in Paris, where the UNESCO head office is also located. “But absolutely, I want to win, because there are things that need to be done and I know I can make a difference.”

Khoury Lacoeuilhe is one of nine candidates on the short list to become the new executive head of the agency later this year. UNESCO was founded in the wake of World War II to promote peace and universal respect for human rights through cooperation on educational, science and cultural programs.

The director-general position is unofficially slated to be filled by a candidate from the Middle East, as the only region that has never been represented in the post. Iraq, Egypt, Qatar and Lebanon have fielded candidates, joining those from France, Azerbaijan, Guatemala, China and Vietnam.

The agency has, however, recently been a theater for political disputes tied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, causing some commentators to contend that electing a head from an Arab nation would intensify, rather than ease, tensions.

Khoury Lacoeuilhe was clear-eyed and straightforward in addressing this question, pointing out that the characteristics of the candidate are more important than the country they come from. “It’s the personality [that matters], and the organization needs someone who knows it enough to bring back credibility and to bring back neutrality. It has nothing to do with the country [you’re from],” she said, without hesitation. “The way to deal with disagreement is to ensure that you have a person who has a record in UNESCO of being fair, of acting with integrity, acting according to principles.”

But she acknowledges that despite the transparency of the election and the thorough vetting of all candidates, it is not easy to depoliticize the process. “All subjects are political. … It’s naive to think otherwise,” she said. “I’m hoping they’re going to base their choice on competence when they elect, because this is not the only criteria, and they know it. There are political considerations unfortunately, even economic considerations, that get into the picture. So member states want achievement, they want results, so they should select a leader who can get this done.”

She continued: “I don’t like these pre-electoral promises, saying, ‘I’m going to prevent any political conversation in UNESCO.’ I want to be honest and transparent. … I’m not pretending that I’m coming with a magic stick and that because I am there everything is going to become perfect immediately … but my only agenda is UNESCO’s interest and the member states’ interests. And this is what distinguishes me [from other candidates].”

In the public interviews held at the end of April by the UNESCO Executive Board, Khoury Lacoeuilhe was the only candidate to propose a practical safeguard for flagging politically charged issues early on – something she said was necessary to maintain focus on “common dominators that we can build on.”

“This is why I proposed … to have an alert system [for] all the members of the secretariat, so they can alert me about anything that could become difficult, so that I can deal with it as early as possible and start dialogue as early as possible.

“I am not going to say that I’m going to change your political views … I’m just asking you to accept to put them on the side so we can deal with what is positive, what we can bring and achieve together. And this I can do. I know the subjects better than any other candidate. … I know the member states better than any other candidate, because I’ve negotiated and worked with them on all these subjects and I think I can bring them together to unite on things we have in common.”

There is no doubt that she is qualified. A diplomat with over 20 years of experience in multilateral diplomacy and international relations, and a member of the Economic and Social Council of the U.N. Independent Team of Advisors, her knowledge of the U.N. system is grounded in years of practice.

Khoury Lacoeuilhe’s commitment to the relevance and mandate of UNESCO is clear as well. She said she recognizes the organization’s imperfections, but considers it well-placed to support the U.N. development goals in a time of great change. Her vision statement, entitled “Our Children,” focuses on the next generation as the aforementioned “common denominator” – a great source of unity in multilateral cooperation, in her view.

In light of this, Khoury Lacoeuilhe emphasizes the need to modernize the agency and integrate an awareness of the technological revolution into its inner workings. “The mandate [of UNESCO] is extremely relevant, and it is doing things now that are extremely successful. They add value but [the organization] has been going through lots of difficulties and it needs to become more agile, more lean, more flexible and it needs to adapt, to change. I mean look at the world we’re living in. Change is absolutely exponential. … There is no way the organization can survive if it doesn’t take this into consideration,” she said.

“I know the potential [of UNESCO] and I know what needs to be done to modernize, and in fact, this is what is needed,” she went on. “And they’re aware of it. There’s brilliant staff over there. … I will not be alone. What I will bring is vision, a new mindset. [I will] empower the staff and make them understand they will be held accountable, attract the brightest people to work with us and trust them to do their work. Alone I will do nothing; nobody can achieve anything alone.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 09, 2017, on page 3.

Première étape réussie pour la candidate du Liban à la direction générale de l’Unesco !

On se souvient de la confusion qui a régné autour de la candidature libanaise à la direction générale de l’Unesco, il y a plusieurs mois. Aujourd’hui, la polémique est dépassée et Véra el-Khoury Lacoeuilhe est la candidate officielle du Liban à ce poste prestigieux. Elle bénéficie désormais de l’appui du chef de l’État, du président du Conseil et des ministres des AE et de la Culture. Elle est même parmi les favoris après l’étape de l’interview des candidats devant les 59 membres du conseil exécutif de l’association. Neuf candidats sont dans la course et les interviews se sont déroulées les 26 et 27 avril (elles sont d’ailleurs sur le Net pour qui aimerait les visionner.Dans le passé, les interviews étaient privées et se déroulaient à la veille de l’élection. Mais à la demande du Canada, elles sont désormais publiques et se déroulent près de 5 mois avant le vote. Véra el-Khoury Lacoeuilhe venait à peine de perdre son père. Malgré tout, elle s’est présentée au rendez-vous. L’interview consiste en un discours de dix minutes suivi d’une séance de questions-réponses. Chaque groupe régional a d’abord droit à une question (il y en a six), avant de laisser la liberté aux délégués. Même si les langues officielles des organisations attachées à l’ONU sont au nombre de six (le russe, le chinois, l’arabe, le français, l’anglais et l’espagnol), les langues de travail ne sont que deux, le français et l’anglais, que les candidats sont censés pratiquer couramment. Véra, elle, a utilisé trois langues dans son discours, les deux réglementaires puis l’arabe, surtout lorsqu’elle a dit qu’elle « vient du Liban et de la région arabe, laquelle est riche en talents, en connaissances et en valeurs. Cette région a hâte de servir cette organisation et, à travers elle, tous les peuples du monde, après 70 ans d’attente ». En effet, en dépit d’une pratique tournante qui veut que la direction générale de l’Unesco revienne à toutes les régions de la planète à tour de rôle, le monde arabe n’a jamais occupé ce poste. C’est donc en candidate de toute la région arabe que Véra el-Khoury s’est présentée devant les membres du conseil exécutif, suscitant l’approbation des trois autres pays arabes qui ont pourtant eux-mêmes des candidats pour le même poste. Il s’agit de l’Égypte, dont la candidate est considérée comme une des favorites de l’élection, ainsi que l’Irak et le Qatar. Pendant une heure et demie, Véra el-Khoury Lacoeuilhe a donc répondu aux questions des délégués qui ont porté sur son programme de relance de l’organisation, qui souffre d’une pénurie au niveau des fonds, et sa vision de son rôle, sachant que l’Unesco n’est pas seulement chargée du patrimoine culturel mondial. Elle s’occupe aussi d’éducation, dans le cadre de la lutte contre la radicalisation. Elle a aussi une commission pour les océans, un institut de statistiques sur lequel compte beaucoup l’ONU, un rôle dans la gestion de l’eau dans la planète, etc., bref beaucoup de niches sur lesquelles la candidate du Liban compte insister pour organiser des levées de fonds.

Dans sa présentation, la candidate du Liban a donc parlé de transparence, de rétablissement de la confiance des États membres dans l’organisation, de modernisation et de mesures concrètes, mais surtout, elle a insisté sur la nécessité de trouver des sources de financement durable, au lieu de se contenter d’injections ponctuelles. Elle a aussi mis en évidence les particularités uniques du Liban, pays de modération, d’ouverture, où la liberté d’expression est respectée (notamment par rapport aux autres pays de la région), où la parité entre les hommes et les femmes fait désormais l’objet d’une campagne sérieuse et, enfin, où l’on parle plusieurs langues. Autant d’éléments qui devraient jouer en sa faveur. D’ailleurs, les sondages effectués après les interviews des candidats ont donné Mme el-Khoury comme favorite, suivie de près par le candidat de la Chine et ceux de la France et de l’Égypte, elles aussi des femmes. Le Qatari a aussi ses chances… Selon la candidate du Liban, les résultats des sondages confirment ce qu’elle disait depuis le début, à savoir que si l’élection est purement technique et se base sur les compétences des candidats, elle aurait des chances sérieuses d’être élue.

Hélas, l’élection du directeur général de l’Unesco n’est pas une échéance technique. Elle est éminemment politique. Les candidats ont désormais près de 5 mois pour intensifier leurs campagnes, et les États qui les ont désignés comme candidats doivent aussi mettre le paquet pour convaincre les 58 membres du conseil exécutif de les choisir. Le conseil a fixé la date de l’élection au 9 octobre. Deux semaines plus tard, le choix du conseil devrait être validé par le vote général de tous les pays membres de l’organisation.

Véra el-Khoury Lacoeuilhe estime que le Liban va désormais être la cible d’attaques, parce qu’il a des chances sérieuses de l’emporter. Il devrait donc être prêt à se battre, sachant que ce poste est important pour lui, et s’il l’emporte, cela susciterait de nombreux espoirs pour les Libanais. « Le Liban, dit-elle avec conviction, a quelque chose à apporter sur la scène internationale, surtout en cette période critique et en particulier en matière de culture et d’éducation. Nous avons toute notre place. En matière de générosité aussi, avec l’accueil des réfugiés et des déplacés. Aucun autre pays au monde ne mérite autant que le Liban la direction générale de l’Unesco. » La candidate croit à cette opportunité et elle veut tout faire pour ne pas la laisser passer… Elle se demande toutefois pourquoi la presse libanaise ne s’intéresse pas beaucoup à ce dossier, alors que tout le Liban pourrait en profiter…


Nine candidates in the running for Director General of UNESCO: What is at stake?

We are in difficult times for multilateralism. The emergence of isolationist, unilateral and populist practices in different regions of the world reflect increasing doubts about multilateralism in responding to major global challenges. Against this background, international organizations are urged to preserve the values of international cooperation while delivering effectively, achieving results and being accountable to their membership in an open and transparent manner.

In the current context, the process to elect the Chief Executive Officer of any international organization should be more than an administrative exercise. It is indeed a political process, but it should also call for a deep reflection in member countries so as they are able to select the most appropriate and qualified candidate, a real leader who can steer change and deliver results.

The United Nations Organization for Education, Sciences and Culture (UNESCO) is currently going through this process, once the mandate of the Bulgarian Irina Bokova expires in 2017).

Why the election of the new UNESCO Director-General is so important and what is at stake? There are a number of reasons, some of they affecting beyond UNESCO itself:

  • In the current financial and credibility crisis, UNESCO requires a Director-General with the skills and capacity to build trust and consensus while making of it an efficient, effective and relevant Organization. The up-to-date deficit in the regular budget, mainly due to USA’s arrears since 2011, amounts to 754.3 million dollars. In other words, existing arrears are greater than the biennial Budget financed through assessed contributions (653 million dollars). The consequences of such deficit have been devastating for programme execution and for support to groups and regions most in need (SIDS, persons with disabilities, women, Africa).
  • Because politization has contaminated UNESCO’s mandate and generated mistrust among members, between membership and the Secretariat and thus, impeding the execution of the programme of work.
  • Because UNESCO is the intellectual arm of the UN system. A privileged space for reflection, and for generating innovative ideas to deal with existing global challenges. It’s value added rest on its basic principles since its creation: dialogue, cooperation, diversity and tolerance.
  • Because the Organization has the leading role for achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 4 on quality education, while it contributes to accomplish the other SDGs through its work in the areas of education, natural sciences, social sciences, culture and communication and information. UNESCO must become ‘fit for purpose’ and respond to the demands and principles of the 2030 Agenda.

According to the nomination process decided by the Executive Board, on April 26th and 27th, the members of the Board interviewed the nine candidates. Each of them presented their project and vision for UNESCO and answered to the questions of regional groups’ representatives and members of the Board.

Among the candidates, there are 6 man and 3 women. The average age of candidates is 58 years old, excluding those of Azerbaijan, Egypt and Guatemala who are 70 years old or even older. This can be relevant as far as it raises the question of how feasible it would be for these candidates to lead the Organization during 2 mandates, which has been the average of DG’s tenure throughout UNESCO’s history.

Concerning geographic origin, it is worth to stress that four candidates come from Arab countries. This is due to the unwritten rule that the next Director-General should come from an Arab country, in a spirit of solidarity and geographical rotation. So far, there have been 10 Directors-General, nationals (in chronological order) of the United Kingdom, Mexico, United States (2 times), Italy, France, Senegal, Spain, Japan and Bulgaria. In other words, there has never been a DG from the Arab region. This situation led to a “gentlemen agreement” within UNESCO’s community to favour an Arab candidate for leading the Organization in the following years.

Within this context, it is possible to explain the criticism emerged vis à vis the French candidature, which has been considered “as imposed by the Eliseo”, a last minute candidature and an open confrontation with the Arab countries. http://www.lefigaro.fr/international/2017/03/16/01003-20170316ARTFIG00109-l-elysee-pousse-audrey-azoulay-a-la-direction-de-l-unesco.php; http://www.ladepeche.fr/article/2017/03/17/2538637-candidature-azoulay-unesco-insulte-pays-arabes-selon-senatrice-lr.html

Even if gender, age and geographical origin are elements to bear in mind, they are not the most relevant. What the 58 Executive Board Member States really need to consider while casting their vote are the skills, experience (at UNESCO and the UN system) and above all, the negotiation and leadership capabilities of candidates.

By analysing the vision of each candidate and after listening the interviews hold during the Board session, I stress the elements and proposals that I consider the most significant to deal with UNESCO’s challenges:

Depoliticising the Organization.- All candidates called on the urgent need to find consensus among membership on political topics, while concentrating on the technical ones. Only Mrs El-Khoury Lacoueilhe presented a specific proposal to create an “early warning system” within the Secretariat that would allow, well in advance, to detect those red lights in Member States’ agenda and promptly act, consequently.

Financial crises.- Candidates’ proposals ranged from expanding the donor base (to include civil society, foundations, private sector and banks and international financial institutions) and in properly communicating the Organization’s work. Specifically, the candidate of Lebanon mentioned her intention to hire professionals in fund-raising and make an optimal use of crowd funding.

SDGs implementation.- All candidates concurred on the important role that UNESCO should have in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. However, no measures or concrete actions were signalled out on how to optimize this responsibility. Only the Lebanese candidate referred to specific changes in the management of Secretariat in order to encourage cross-sectoral approaches and to create partnerships with other institutions, in and out the UN system, in order to concentrate efforts to those areas in which UNESCO really has a comparative advantage.

Next October, Board members will cast their vote in order to present only one candidate for his/her appointment by the General Conference. Hopefully, this election will not only be a bureaucratic exercise of exchanges of support among countries, or of financial promises in exchange of votes, or just “another election” within the UN system. ‘Business as usual’ is no longer an alternative.

Let’s hope that this process becomes in an authentic thoughtful exercise that allows each country to make an informed decision and choose a real leader. A candidate that can genuinely conduct change at UNESCO. Our children and future generations will be the most grateful of such decision, because they are the ones who will benefit the most of a credible, transparent and strengthened UNESCO.

Who elects the Director-General?

According to UNESCO’s Constitution, the Executive Board nominates the Director-General, who is in turn appointed by the General Conference. The Director-General may be appointed by an initial mandate of four years with a possibility of a second term of another four years.

Who are the candidates?

The candidates, in the order of the date they presented their dossier are: Polad BÜLBÜLOGLU (Azerbaijan); Sanh Chau PHAM (Vietnam); Moushira KHATTAB (Egypt); Hamad bin Abdulaziz AL-KAWARI (Qatar); Qian Tang (China); Juan Alfonso FUENTES SORIA (Guatemala); Saleh AL-HASNAWI (Iraq); Vera EL-KHOURY LACOEUILHE (Lebanon) y Audrey AZOULAY (France).



Les neuf candidats qui postulent à la place de directeur de l’Unesco ont été auditionnés.

Neuf candidats pour une place

Après la publication de la liste des candidats à la place de directeur ou directrice de l’UNESCO, ils ont été auditionnés les 26 et 27 avril au siège à Paris. Qui sont-ils :

M Polad BÜLBÜLOGLU Azerbaïdjan

M PHAM Sanh Chau Viet Nam

Mme Moushira KHATTAB Egypte

M Hamad bin Abdulaziz AL-KAWARI Qatar

M Qian TANG Chine

M Juan Alfonso FUENTES SORIA Guatemala

Mr Saleh AL-HASNAWI Iraq


Mme Audrey AZOULAY France

Le site « Qatarinfos.net » que j’ai l’honneur de diriger apporte son soutien à la plus grande compétence, donc à Mme Vera EL-KHOURY LACOEUILHE.