The Cook Islands candidature, which had unanimous support from the 16 members of the Pacific Islands Forum, was launched in August 2016. The campaign was jointly led by the Ministry of Education (MoE) which is the National Commission for UNESCO, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI).
The Cook Islands candidature advocated the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with an emphasis on ensuring Pacific Islands interests in education, the sciences, culture and digital technology are supported by UNESCO.
“While we are disappointed with the election outcome, the campaign availed multiple engagement opportunities for our country to dialogue with many of the 195 members of UNESCO and equally important, other bilateral and multilateral issues,” said Puna. “Those relationships we will continue to cultivate in the coming months to advance our various interests.”
On the home front, UNESCO has over many years provided valuable support to advance national priorities across wide-ranging initiatives in education, the sciences and culture.
“As well as assisting capacity development through a range of regionally-based workshops in all UNESCO programme areas, the organisation has supported a number of home-grown initiatives, particularly around digitising archive material, performing arts and the works of non-government organisations such as the National Youth Council and Cook Islands Family Welfare Association,” said Secretary General of the National Commission, Gail Townsend. The Cook Islands contested the Asia Pacific (ASPAC) Group where six seats were available to seven candidates, the other six being Japan, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, India and Bangladesh. The 91 votes the Cook Islands secured from the 195 membership of UNESCO was insufficient to secure a seat on the executive board, but was a respectable level of support considering the strength of the countries the Cook Islands was competing with.
“It is unfortunate the Cook Islands candidature was unsuccessful because it has denied the UNESCO membership and organisation of valuable Pacific perspectives and contributions to the executive board,” said Foreign Secretary Tepaeru Herrmann.
“This is all the more unfortunate because there are 12 seats available to the ASPAC group and there hasn’t been a Pacific voice on the executive board for the last two years.
“And it will be another two years before a Pacific candidate can contest it.
“The Cook Islands has, however, secured a seat on the Legal Commission of UNESCO and will be an active participant on behalf of Pacific interests through its Ambassador to UNESCO, Nathalie Rossette Cazel who is based in France.
“The Pacific and in particular New Zealand and Australia were supportive of the Cook Islands candidature, availing various diplomatic resources to advance the candidature of the Cook Islands for which government is grateful,” Herrmann said.
“The Cook Islands’ pending ODA graduation requires government to be proactive in cultivating relationships with countries and organisations who can support our various development aspirations,” said Puna.
“Its global mandate for education, science, culture and technology make it imperative we engage consistently and in a targeted manner with UNESCO in the months ahead.”