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UNESCO adopts landmark Decision on celebrating Vesak annually

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In a historic move, the Executive Board of UNESCO at its 219th Session adopted by acclamation a Decision to commemorate the International Day of Vesak at the UNESCO in alignment with the organization’s core mandate of promoting global peace, intercultural dialogue, and the preservation of cultural heritage.

The landmark Decision was based on the historic UN General Assembly Resolution 54/115 of 1999 on International Recognition of Vesak at the United Nations which was then spearheaded by Sri Lanka’s illustrious former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, and was adopted on its 25th anniversary year at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on Tuesday, March 26, 2024.

The Decision was led by the Permanent Delegation of Sri Lanka to UNESCO with the co-sponsorship of a cross-regional group of 38 member states of which 16 were members of the Executive Board.

The Decision requests the UNESCO Director-General to issue an annual message on the International Day of Vesak, and to make appropriate arrangements to commemorate Vesak annually at UNESCO Headquarters in consultation with the relevant Permanent Delegations, commencing this year (2024). It further requests the Director-General to transmit the Decision to UNESCO’s General Conference at its 43rd session in November 2025 for adoption.

Introducing the decision, the Ambassador of Sri Lanka to France and the Permanent Delegate of Sri Lanka to UNESCO Manisha Gunasekera stated that the commemoration of the International Day of Vesak is “an initiative that holds profound universal significance to humanity”, and that “its celebration by people and communities spread across different countries and continents, with diverse cultural traditions, embodies the very spirit of Vesak”. She emphasised that the teachings of the Buddha and its philosophy closely align and resonate with UNESCO’s major programmes and strategic objectives, particularly in fostering inclusive education, combatting discrimination and in promoting intellectual and moral solidarity.

Speaking in support of the Decision during its consideration, the Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of India to UNESCO Vishal Sharma stated that “the Four Noble Truths have been guiding countless generations since the time of Shakyamuni Buddha”. He congratulated the countries led by Sri Lanka who initiated and supported the important Decision on Vesak.

The Decision during its deliberations received the endorsement and support of the Assistant Director General for Social and Human Sciences Gabriela Ramos and the Assistant Director General for Culture Ernesto Ottone leading UNESCO’s Major Programmes III and IV, respectively, as well as of the Assistant Director General for Priority Africa and External Relations Anthony Kwaku Ohemeng-Boamah under the leadership of UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.

The 38 Member States who co-sponsored the Decision are Algeria, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Chile, China, Colombia, Djibouti, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Lao PDR, Lebanon, Liberia, Malaysia, Mauritania, Mongolia, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palau, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Romania, Seychelles, South Africa, Sri Lanka, State of Palestine, Suriname, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia and Viet Nam.

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