Annual Report Netherlands Commission for Unesco 2016

Annual Report 2016

‘Sustainable development is the belief that human development cannot happen without a healthy planet.

A sustainable future for all is about human dignity, social inclusion and environmental protection.
It is a future where economic growth does not exacerbate inequalities but builds prosperity for all.’

Irina Bokova, director-general of Unesco


People and the planet too: that’s our bottom line. Unesco, founded in 1945 as a peace project, has never shied away from global goals. In our part of the world, the organization is primarily known for its focus on cultural heritage, in particular, the World Heritage List. Every now and then, Westerners accordingly say we should limit our mandate to just that, culture and cultural heritage. Reading through this annual report, we couldn’t help but thinking if you did that, what a lot of babies you’d be throwing out with the bathwater!

In our activities at the Netherlands Commission for Unesco, we have tried more than ever to make connections between the different bodies of ideas in the four parts of Unesco’s mandate (education, science, culture and communication & information). To connect heritage with technological developments, science with human rights, education with cultural diversity. In doing so, we have also brought together worlds that hardly knew each other, such as during the equally fascinating and disturbing briefing on heritage and terrorism at the Rijksmuseum. You will find these connections in this annual report.

People and the planet are also central to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, commonly known as SDGs. These seventeen goals are the successors to the Millennium Development Goals drawn up by the UN in 2000. In the Netherlands we have embraced the SDGs with an online master class by our Unesco professors as well as activities in our network of Unesco Associated Schools. Goal number four, for instance: ‘Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.’ When the ramifications of that succinct statement sink in, you realize the grandeur of the task. It is an ambition shared by many across the world. People and the planet too.

The commission tries to realize the United Nations’ Global Goals through concrete, visible activities in our country, with the most recent offshoot being the Unesco debate in September.

In 2016 we again worked with great enthusiasm and pleasure, which was possible thanks to the efforts of our many partners. We would like to extend them our heartfelt gratitude.

The opening interview with Corinne Hofman and Peter-Paul Verbeek

Corinne Hofman is professor of Archaeology of the Caribbean and dean of the Faculty of Archaeology at Leiden University. She is also a member of the Netherlands Commission for Unesco. Peter-Paul Verbeek is professor of philosophy of technology at the University of Twente. Since 2016, he is a member of Comest, a Unesco advisory body.

It takes some time to get two busy scientists together for a double interview. After the requisite calling back and forth, archaeologist Corinne Hofman and technology philosopher Peter-Paul Verbeek finally meet at the Faculty of Archaeology of Leiden University – through Skype.

Speaking of time, archaeologist Corinne Hofman’s field of study focuses on the past and what it means for the present. Technology philosopher Peter-Paul Verbeek’s field examines the ethics of technological developments and how technology influences people today and could influence them tomorrow. Can they be of any significance for each other? Definitely, thinks Hofman: ‘I can add depth to your story, Peter-Paul, with information on how people have used technology throughout the ages.’ Verbeek himself frequently refers to the past to clarify how earlier developments have influenced contemporary ones: ‘What connects you and me are the physical things of this world; in other words, objects, buildings, you name it. Objects from the past tell us something about what people once made and about how we design our society now. Both of us want to understand the influence of material culture on people and society.’

‘That’s very philosophically put indeed’, reacts Hofman with a laugh. Verbeek has an example ready; he supervised PhD research on how cesspools were designed in the Middle Ages: ‘That can tell you a lot about how people lived back then.’ Hofman studies how housing is constructed in the Caribbean area, a region where hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions regularly occur. The older houses stand up better than the housing that is being built nowadays for the poorer inhabitants: ‘That knowledge could for instance help to improve the reconstruction of Haiti after the recent natural disasters.’

Back to the essence

Both scholars work for Unesco; both are aware of the criticism of the organization with regard to its politicization. Hofman, a member of the Netherlands Commission for Unesco, says: ‘Unesco was founded at a time when the social circumstances were different. The organization can continue to play a role if it goes back to the essence of what it stands for. She realizes that what the member states want to accomplish is surrounded by tension. For example, the major powers determine much of what happens at the level of the World Heritage List. ‘A national commission can steer clear of those political waters and determine its own course to a certain extent’, says Hofman. ‘Otherwise I would never have become a member.’

In 2016, Verbeek joined Comest, a Unesco advisory body that examines ethical questions on technology, climate change, disaster prevention and biodiversity. The members of the commission are independent experts; Verbeek has not experienced any political interference: ‘At my first meeting it struck me that the whole world was sitting around the table. As the former chair of the international Society for Philosophy and Technology, I thought I knew the most important players, but at Comest I met various people who were new to me. It made me realize how limited my perspective was, how Anglo-Saxon. Among other things we spoke about the influence of robots on society. The participants from Asia and Africa looked at that from a completely different cultural context.’


Taking a close look at scientific knowledge

Archaeology and philosophy both try to fathom the ways of the world. New technological developments force us to think about what friendships mean, for instance, and what social relations are. So in a sense, Verbeek and Hofman share an ambition. One often reads nowadays that scientific knowledge is just an opinion. To what extent do they pay attention to that, if at all? ‘In the eyes of a growing number of people, scientists form an elite that has too much power’, says Verbeek. ‘I think that’s rather healthy: if researchers don’t even want to consider such criticism, that’s an arrogance you could also call unscientific. In discussion programmes on television, like the one I saw recently on vaccinations, activists usually are given as much speaking time as scientists. Scientists sometimes complain about that, whereas activists sometimes also refer to scientific research. I see this as an emancipation of “the people”. Scientists have to learn how to handle critical questions from society in a better way.’

‘Both of us want to understand the influence of material culture on people and society.’

By maintaining closer ties with society, scientists can formulate better research questions and the results will be more applicable, Hofman believes. A lot of research is funded with public money, and she can imagine that people want to know what they’re getting in return: ‘Scientists and scholars have to take that responsibility.’ Exactly, agrees Verbeek: ‘Still too often, scientific communication comes down to talking in simple language about what a great discovery you made instead of letting others see what makes it tick and explaining how you got those results.’

Sustainable future

Since we’re talking about the usefulness of science, how can it contribute to sustainable development? Hofman sees enough starting points. For example, she is doing research on the residue of medicinal plants found on old grindstones and millstones and comparing that with how we use plants today: ‘This way you build up relevant knowledge about old traditions that are still useful and relatively simple to apply.’ Verbeek says that sustainability is directly related to how people interact with technology and that by gaining insight in this interaction, science can become socially relevant. ‘Of course you can design products that pollute as little as possible’, he says, ‘but we live in an age where people throw away useful things because they get tired of them. You can also define sustainability as “durability” and encourage people to attach value to things. Think of a modularly constructed smart phone that has parts you can easily replace.’

‘Fieldwork is what I like most, because it allows me to connect my discipline with society.’

What does sustainability mean for heritage? Many digital recordings of objects and heritage sites have already been made. Verbeek enthusiastically points to the possibilities of 3D glasses: ‘If you could virtually walk around the historical sites that ISIL destroyed…’ Heritage is also starting to exist in the digital world. Children nowadays are digital natives – the internet is part of their world and provides fleeting but valuable things. It’s good to ask yourself how we can design the digital world in such a way that we can preserve parts of it as cultural heritage, he believes. Hofman nods: ‘But the question is whether the digital world can replace everything. To my way of thinking you are making too quick of a step, as if you are saying: it doesn’t matter what happens because we have the digital version. You have to be on guard against that.’ ‘I agree completely’, replies Verbeek, ‘I’m simply talking about making heritage accessible.’ Hofman sees the extent to which heritage contributes to social cohesion during her fieldwork: ‘Not for nothing is heritage often purposely damaged during conflicts in order to hurt the opponent. Palmyra has taught us how quickly it can be obliterated.’

Actively combating climate change

Armed conflicts aren’t the only threat; climate change can be just as destructive, if not more so. In the Caribbean area, Hofman has seen natural and cultural heritage disappear as the result of natural disasters and rising sea levels. Hurricanes are occurring with increasing frequency in the region: ‘In part because of human intervention, the Earth’s climate is changing and natural catastrophes are becoming more extreme; you wonder where it will end.’ She returns to the topic of the relevance of science: ‘This is why you have to involve members of the public and the government in your research; otherwise you will never be able to make them realize how it applies to their own interests and they won’t feel it relates to them.’

‘How do we develop technologies that are more environmentally friendly?’

According to Verbeek, people have created a mental distance between their actions in the present and the consequences of those actions in the future. Even now, when the signs are becoming increasingly clear, there is still much too little being done to actively combat global warming. Unesco and also the UN are in the best possible position to tackle the problem of climate change, he feels: ‘We can only come up with solutions by dealing with this collectively. So, how do you teach children to recognize these problems? How do we develop technologies that are more environmentally friendly? As a scientist, how can you refute a populist standpoint? Not by claiming that people who think differently are dumb, but by seeking ways to connect with them. Unesco can mean something in this area, precisely because so many people from all over the world and from every sort of discipline congregate there.’ To which Hofman replies, ‘That’s what I was referring to earlier. Through Unesco, people reach across social differences to agree on a shared social ideal.’


Hofman works an average of four months a year in the Caribbean. Other cultures enrich you, she notes: ‘I sit down at the table with an illiterate and a king, so to speak, and I can share my knowledge with both of them. Fieldwork is what I like most, because it allows me to connect my discipline with society.’ Verbeek travels considerably less; for his research, three steps to the bookcase suffice. But he’s often on the go, giving lectures and attending conferences. ‘Being suspended above the Earth in a plane puts me in a meditative frame of mind. It creates an agreeable physical and mental distance that makes you think: What is actually really important?’

‘I have one more question for you,’ concludes Hofman. ‘You say you focus on the interaction between technology and society, but how close are you to the average person?’ Verbeek gives many interviews and is collaborating on a science café: ‘It attracts all sorts of people, not just the highly educated. How do you yourself do that?’ Hofman is currently investigating the first contacts between the Indian inhabitants of the Caribbean and the Europeans and their African slaves: ‘In the schoolbooks there, history starts with the arrival of Columbus. I am doing research on settlements and objects from the period before that. A lot still exists, but it has not been dug up and gets no attention.’ Hofman speaks with local residents. She invites them to archaeological digs; some help with the work. ‘I’ve found that they have a better understanding of what we are seeking than our students do. They are looking for the same answers: people want to know how their ancestors reacted to colonization. Did they resist, and why has the Western culture become so dominant? The interesting thing is that you gain respect for each other through such an exchange and that’s what it’s all about, in your story as well as mine.’


Ever since its founding, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, known as Unesco, has contributed to stability and peace in the world. Long-lasting peace must be founded upon ‘the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind’, states the organization’s constitution. Unesco’s efforts for peace therefore run along the lines of the advancement and exchange of knowledge, intercultural dialogue, sustainable development, global citizenship and shared responsibility.

The realization of this mandate has come under pressure, however. This is because confidence in international cooperation is declining, solidarity is becoming less self-evident, and the organisation’s financing remains problematic. Apart from their obligatory contribution, member states increasingly are only willing to make voluntary donations that are earmarked for Unesco projects with specific purposes – and thus serve their own interests more. Countries are also putting greater demands on transparency and measurable results. While the latter is the consequence of a partly justified criticism of the organization’s bureaucracy, such demands make it harder for Unesco to organize and finance projects on its own. The Netherlands Commission for Unesco is concerned about this development and is addressing these concerns within its network. 


For the period until 2030, the UN has a global development agenda with seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Unesco firmly anchored these SDGs in its programmes in 2016. The point of departure is an awareness that humanity cannot develop further without a vital earth. The consequences of climate change are becoming increasingly evident and sustainable development therefore has the highest priority. Unesco contributes to the realization of at least eight SDGs and is the global coordinator for the achievement of SGD 4, quality education for all.

European National Commissions for Unesco

The European network of National Commissions for Unesco assembled in February in Krakow, Poland.

At the meeting, the Dutch commission presented its experiences with respect to heritage in conflict situations and moderated a session on what Unesco can contribute in the area of migration. During this network meeting, which was attended by representatives from 32 European countries, much attention was also given to open educational resources and Geoparks. The website of the European National Commissions for Unesco is steadily improving as a discussion forum and as a platform for the exchange of information and best practices.

Dutch Caribbean

In the Dutch Caribbean area, Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten have a national commission for Unesco of their own. The special municipalities of the Netherlands in the area, Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius, fall under the responsibility of the Netherlands Commission for Unesco. The commission has made preparations to conduct a tour of the islands in 2017.

The most recent joint training session for Unesco’s programme on developing capacity for immaterial heritage for Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten and Suriname took place in Curaçao.

The commission and representatives of Aruba and Curaçao looked into possibilities for co-organizing a follow-up to the ‘First Aid Course for Heritage in Times of Crisis’. For the Caribbean, this course should focus on protecting heritage against natural disasters. The commission also contributed to a feasibility study on obtaining world heritage status for the Marine Park on Bonaire.

Netherlands Commission for Unesco

In 2016, Charlotte Huygens became a member of the commission. She is specialized in Arab art history and has extensive experience with international cultural emergency relief. Huygens curates exhibitions and writes about the Islamic world on topics ranging from cultural heritage and classical art to contemporary design. Huygens is also a member of the supervisory boards of The Hague’s Royal Academy of Art and the Royal Conservatoire. Her arrival means that the commission is now at its full strength of eleven members.

The commission has the pleasure of collaborating with Dorine van Norren and Nélida Moll, two new Unesco liaisons respectively appointed by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Various activities of the commission were in the news in 2016, including an interview with Commission Chair Andrée van Es on NPO Radio 1 and articles in national and regional newspapers, weeklies and professional journals. Members of the commission, the secretary-general and staff gave lectures throughout the year. They also participated in debates and worked as guest teachers.

Visits to the commission’s website ( and the website of associated schools ( rose in 2016 to almost 150,000 and 8000 respectively. The number of followers on social networks – Twitter, Facebook and YouTube – also steadily increased. Various changes were made on the website to improve user experience. Some 100 news items, opinion pieces and background articles appeared on the site. Large parts of the files were updated. So far, the most popular section of the website remains the map showing all of Unesco’s world heritage objects.

Composition of the Netherlands Commission for Unesco

Commission members

Andrée van Es
chair; former alderman in Amsterdam, former director-general Governance and Kingdom Relations at the ministry of the Interior

John Marks
vice-chair; international advisor on science and research policies

Jan van den Akker
former director-general of the Netherlands Institute for Curriculum Development (SLO)

Rietje van Dam-Mieras
board member Top Consortium for Knowledge and Innovation for the Biobased Economy

Dirk van Delft
director of Museum Boerhaave, Leiden

Yvonne Donders
professor of International Human Rights and Cultural Diversity, University of Amsterdam

Corinne Hofman
professor of Archaeology of the Caribbean, Leiden University

Charlotte Huygens (as of May 2016)
expert in Arab art history, curator of exhibitions and publicist on the Islamic world

Fouad Laroui
writer; assistant professor of epistemology and French literature, University of Amsterdam

Katrien Termeer
professor of Public Administration and Policy, Wageningen University

Erik-Jan Zürcher
professor of Turkish Studies, Leiden University



Marielies Schelhaas
head of the bureau


Advisory members

Karin Dekker
head of Global Affairs, International Policy Department, Ministry of Education, Culture and Science

Esther van Duin (until June 2016)
youth delegate Unesco

Mary Kachavos
youth delegate Unesco

Murielle van der Meer (as of June 2016)
youth delegate Unesco

Lionel Veer
ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Unesco


Bureau staff

Marike Bontenbal
policy officer science

Marieke Brugman
policy officer education and culture

Martijn van Eck
communications advisor

Cornelieke de Klerk
policy officer education and culture (interim)

Guggi Schaeffer von Wienwald
office manager

Koosje Spitz
policy officer culture and heritage at risk

Vincent Wintermans
policy officer communication and information


In continuation of the Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations set new goals for international development in 2015. These Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have the year 2030 as their horizon.

As a UN agency, Unesco shares the responsibility for achieving the SDGs. With its broad mandate, the organization plays a role in reaching all of the UN’s goals. Moreover, Unesco is the worldwide coordinator of activities concerning the fourth sustainable goal: universal quality education. Across the entire world, more than 10,000 schools are members of the Unesco Associated Schools Project Network (ASPnet). In 2016, Unesco ordered an evaluation of this network. The results emphasized the important role that participating schools can play in achieving the SDGs. These goals indeed are the connecting thread in the commission’s educational activities, key aspects of which are quality education, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue.

In 2016 the commission worked together with several experts in the Theme Group on Education:

Jan van den Akker, Netherlands Commission for Unesco (chair) ∎ Willemijn Balk, Nuffic ∎ Jan Berkvens, Netherlands Institute for Curriculum Development (SLO) ∎ Marieke Brugman, Netherlands Commission for Unesco, bureau ∎ Ron Dekker, Carolus Clusius College (until July 2016) ∎ Dirk van Delft, Netherlands Commission for Unesco ∎ Herman van Holt, Sardes ∎ Mary Kachavos, youth representative Unesco ∎ Joke van der Leeuw, Euroclio ∎ Murielle van der Meer, youth representative Unesco ∎ Stephan Meershoek, Nuffic ∎ Wim van Nispen, Hofstad Lyceum (as of July 2016) ∎ Anja Plugge, The Hague University of Applied Science ∎ Marielies Schelhaas, Netherlands Commission for Unesco ∎ Jos Rikers, Open University.

Interview with Marjolein Maarleveld: Unesco primary school: one step at a time

Marjolein Maarleveld is internal counsellor at the Juliana Dalton School in Bussum. In the 2016–2017 school year, the school completed an orientation phase in order to become a Unesco school.

The Juliana Dalton School in Bussum has been eagerly working on its educational philosophy and practice. Five years ago, it received the designation of ‘excellent’. Next year, it hopes to finally become a Unesco school.

‘We have a popular tradition here: on the day that children finish primary school, their teacher literally sends them out into the world – with a kick on their bottoms, straight through a row of their schoolmates. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if these kids could already have been given the cultural baggage they need in order to feel involved in the world? Cognitive skills alone are not enough for that.’ Internal counsellor Marjolein Maarleveld enthusiastically explains why the Juliana Dalton School wants to become a Unesco school: ‘Primary school kids are still so open, so socially-oriented. If you teach them the ideas and values of Unesco during this phase, they will already have acquired the ‘package’ before they reach puberty and mainly become focussed on themselves.’

Passing on happiness

The Juliana Dalton School is housed with its 230 pupils in a monumental building from the 1920s. Standing at the entrance is a huge vase with flowers, their welcoming effect not at all diminished by the fact that they are plastic. Hanging on the wall are large sheets of paper with phrases like ‘dreams of the future’ and ‘positive thinking’, part of a study programme in which the pupils share their own ‘happiness’ and pass it on to others – this past school year, to older people in a care home. Activities like these are important, Maarleveld believes. ‘At the Dalton School we already work intensively with the values espoused by Unesco, including taking responsibility and working together. For instance, we teach our pupils that it’s valuable to be able to work with other children, even if they don’t like some of them very much.’ For the time being, the school is concentrating on three Unesco themes that are already partly embedded in their educational activities: peace and human rights, sustainable development, and global citizenship. The school will be tackling the theme of ‘intercultural learning’ at a later phase. ‘We hope to get ideas about that when we meet with the other Unesco schools.’

‘Children who are self-confident have a more positive image of themselves and of the world around them.’

The underlying idea is simple: children who are self-confident have a more positive image of themselves and of the world around them. The lessons make children aware of the power of positive thinking, but also that they have choices and that they themselves can influence their own happiness. This ultimately enables them to also share their happiness with others. The Happiness Bag literally and figuratively gives children positive thoughts to carry in their own bag. At the end of the study project, the children pass their happiness on to others. Together with the rest of the class and the teacher, they think about how and to whom.


In order to become a Unesco school, the Juliana Dalton School first had to create a work plan indicating what they wanted to achieve for each Unesco activity. ‘Our new plans include a waste-free school, vegetable gardens and a student council. In the council, the children learn among other things to listen to each other and respond with arguments’, says Maarleveld. ‘And our Fair Trade week is aimed at stimulating empathy and a sense of social justice.’ After completing the orientation year and making an evaluation, the school will draw up a definitive work plan, which goes to the Unesco headquarters in Paris and must be submitted in English. For Maarleveld, this is a chance to involve the parents. ‘I’m sure that somebody will be prepared to make a good translation of the plan.’

Every child can participate

In addition to conveying the Unesco values, Maarleveld expects that the activities will have a positive effect on personal problems children may have. Part of her duties as internal counsellor is to help pupils in this respect. ‘Think for instance of children with behavioural problems, children who are cognitively impaired, or those who cannot keep up with the others socially. A hyperactive child might feel completely at home in a vegetable garden. A pupil who is weak in arithmetic could do fine contributing to Universal Children’s Day. And the highly gifted child? Have him or her figure out for the waste-free school project how much extra electricity we use by leaving the lights on during recess. In this way, we can encourage every child to develop and blossom. Good for their self-confidence, good for the world.’

Unesco Associated Schools

The expansion of the ASPnet in the Netherlands also continued in 2016. The Netherlands Commission for Unesco welcomed six new orientation schools: one primary school and five secondary schools. Interest at the primary level is increasing. In 2017, the commission expects to add another five primary schools to the network. Four schools have exchanged their orientation status for the official Unesco status, bringing the total number of Unesco Associated Schools in the Netherlands to forty-one.

On World Teachers’ Day (October 5th), which this year coincided with the Netherlands Unesco Schools Day, the commission organized the Dutch presentation of the ‘Global Education Monitoring Report’ (GEMR), a Unesco report that examines the state of education throughout the world each year. The report gave schools concrete information on Unesco’s educational goals and what is needed in order to achieve them worldwide. It inspired various schools to actively include the SDGs in their teaching programme, especially because these goals link up well with the Unesco themes of peace and human rights, world citizenship, intercultural learning and sustainable development.


At various moments in the discussion about the future of education in the Netherlands, the commission shared experiences from the ASPnet, both for the educational platform Ons Onderwijs 2032 and for the Education Council of the Netherlands with respect to the internationalization of education. The crux of the commission’s advice is that the skills related to Jacques Delors’ four pillars (learning to do, learning to be, learning to know, learning to live together) are essential in preparing students for their future role in society. Delors introduced the pillars in 1996 as chair of Uneco’s International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century. The Unesco Associated Schools in particular consciously focus on teaching these skills to students, in addition to the four Unesco themes mentioned above.

During Munesco 2016, a Unesco simulation for high school students, teams from seventeen Dutch and Flemish schools debated on education and migration flows. The Hofstad Lyceum and The Hague University of Applied Sciences hosted the event. An online module offered information about the content and procedures of the debates. The idea behind Munesco is to acquaint students with debating and the sometimes complex political relations that can play a part in global organizations.

Within the ASPnet, interest in cooperation at the local level is increasing. For instance, the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and the Cosmicus primary school from the same city organized a global market for parents and students. The university also played a role in a project on immaterial heritage in Rotterdam’s West-Kruiskade area. In other cities, too, Unesco Associated Schools are taking the initiative to collaborate and find partners within their municipality or region. From that basis, they subsequently widen their horizons, for instance by seeking partner schools in other countries.


In Amsterdam, two Unesco Associated Schools participated in the ‘Voices of tolerance’ project, an initiative by Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic Museum) that offered VMBO (TVET) students the opportunity to speak about tolerance and respect in discussions led by role models. The event took place on the International Day for Tolerance under the commission’s patronage.


The commission also acted as patron for ‘The mobile educator’ project. This initiative by Leiden University offers Syrian refugees with a background in the educational field a short introduction to Dutch education, placing special attention on the role of ICT. What is special about this training course is that it is made for and by teachers. In November, commission chair Andrée van Es presented certificates to the first two groups of participants. In total, almost forty people took the course.

UNESCO Associated Schools (ASP-net) in the Netherlands in 2016

Primary education

Basisschool Cosmicus, Rotterdam ∎ De Vrije Ruimte, The Hague (also secondary education) ∎ J.P. Coenschool, Amsterdam (school in trial period 2016-2017)

Secondary education

Arentheem College, location Titus Brandsma, Velp ∎ Baarnsch Lyceum (school in trial period 2016-2017) ∎ Berlage Lyceum, Amsterdam ∎ Bernard Nieuwentijt College, Monnickendam ∎ Bonhoeffer College, Enschede (school in trial period 2016-2017) ∎ Carolus Clusius College, Zwolle ∎ Christelijk College Nassau Veluwe, Harderwijk ∎ Christelijk Gymnasium Utrecht ∎ CSG Winsum ∎ Dongemond College, Raamsdonksveer ∎ Erfgooierscollege, Huizen ∎ Grotius College, Delft (school in trial period 2016-2017) ∎ Gymnasium Felisenum, Velsen-Zuid ∎ Hofstad Lyceum, The Hague ∎ Jac. P. Thijsse College, Castricum (school in trial period 2016-2017) ∎ Lorentz Lyceum, Arnhem ∎ Lyceum Kralingen, Rotterdam ∎ Lyceum Schravenlant, Schiedam (school in trial period 2016-2017) ∎ Maaswaal College, Wijchen ∎ Metis Montessori Lyceum, Amsterdam ∎ Oostvaarderscollege, Almere ∎ Porta Mosana College, Maastricht ∎ Sancta Maria, Haarlem ∎ Sint Bonifatiuscollege, Utrecht ∎ Tabor College, location Werenfridus, Hoorn ∎ Willem de Zwijger College, Bussum

Vocational education

AOC Oost, Twello ∎ Groenhorst College, Almere ∎ Groenhorst College, Barneveld ∎ ROC A12, Ede ∎ ROC De Leijgraaf ∎ ROC Midden-Nederland, Utrecht ∎ ROC Mondriaan, The Hague ∎ Koning Willem I College, Den Bosch ∎ The Hague University of Applied Sciences, academy for public management, safety and law ∎ Leiden University of Applied Sciences ∎ Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences ∎ Inholland University of Applied Sciences, The Hague.


At Unesco, the sciences have always fallen under two domains: natural and social sciences. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development forms a steppingstone that connects these domains. Put another way, it approaches people and the planet – the theme of this annual report – in a more integrated manner. The Netherlands Commission for Unesco heartily applauds this move.

In 2016, the commission promoted science in the area of sustainable development (Unesco chairs, geoparks) and supported an ethically responsible science policy offering access to knowledge and information for all (an update of the 1974 Unesco recommendation).

Interview with Anja Oskamp: Late-bloomers in higher education

Anja Oskamp is Rector of the Open University of the Netherlands. In 2016, the OU worked with the Netherlands National Commission for Unesco on a master class about the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. Furthermore, it is the only Dutch university to have two Unesco chairs.

This interview with Anja Oskamp took place at her home, where she works one day a week because it saves her a train trip from Den Bosch to the Open University in Heerlen. Many of the 15,000 students at the university also study from a distance.

The student population of the Open University (OU) consists of adults who are doing additional studies while working or who are pursuing a higher education for the first time. A telling example, Oskamp finds, is the woman who was told as a teenager that she wasn’t even capable of earning a retailer’s diploma. ‘In her mid-thirties – after four years of studying at the OU in combination with holding down a job – she completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology.’ Therein lies the difference with other universities: the only entrance requirement the OU has is that students must be 18 years or older.

Lifelong learning

Distance learning and flexible study are typical of the OU. In the first years of the university’s existence, the communication between teachers and students went through the post. With the arrival of the internet, the educational process became increasingly digitalized. Nowadays, not only studying but also academic debate and collaborative efforts largely occur online. ‘We do a lot of research on our students and how we teach them,’ Oskamp says. ‘It matters whether you are teaching someone with experience in life or someone just out of secondary school. Our students are intrinsically motivated, and that requires a different kind of didactics. Students who come to the OU to investigate the scientific underpinnings of their work are aware of what is currently going on in their field. We accordingly aim for an exchange of knowledge between students and lecturers. Ideally, the dialogue between the two is more equal than at other universities. That’s not always the case, of course, but it certainly does occur.’

In Oskamps’s opinion, today’s education is too much focussed on young people. Those who enter the labour market now will be part of it for almost 50 years. ‘In a society where developments are rapid, jobs are constantly being eliminated and new professions are emerging, you have to continually keep on learning, and much too little is being organized in this regard. Replenishing your knowledge frequently during your career should become more normal. I see that as my challenge.’

High-quality education

In 2016, the OU and the Netherlands Commission for Unesco collaborated on a master class comprised of six sessions about the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. This was done in consultation with the Unesco chair holders. According to Oskamp, these sessions make complicated subjects understandable in a playful manner. And they are open to all – everybody can follow them online free of charge.

‘We ourselves also use master classes in our teaching practice because of their low threshold. What’s so great about this series is that it combines academic and social themes.’ The OU had a Unesco chair in Knowledge Transfer for Sustainable Development for some years before gaining a second Unesco chair, in Open Education, in 2016. Oskamp sees advantages for both organizations in this arrangement: ‘Unesco expands its worldwide network of professors and the OU gains access to it.’ The chair does not come with any financial support. It’s about spreading a value that Unesco and the OU both uphold: access to (higher) education for all. But Oskamp sets the bar high: ‘It has to be real education; there are qualitative criteria for this. If you focus on students from different countries, the course material has to be attuned to the culture of the recipients so that they can recognize and apply what they learn in their daily surroundings.’

‘Replenishing your knowledge frequently during your career should become more normal.’

Selection at the gate

Oskamp previously worked as a professor and dean at another university. What especially appeals to her about being a rector is that she can give people the opportunity to develop their talents. ‘And by that I mean both the academic staff and the students. Education has to be set up so that students can make the best possible use of it, certainly for our university’s special population; one third of our students previously failed to obtain the degree for which they were studying or don’t even meet the starting qualifications for entrance at other universities. At the same time, the number of enrolments at campus universities is increasing and more and more institutions are making selections at the gate. On top of that, many young people are discontinuing their studies for various reasons. With us they get a second chance later on. I myself enjoyed studying very much, and after that, teaching and doing research, and I would like others to be able to experience that enjoyment too.’

Women in science

Yearly, the Dutch L’Oréal-Unesco ‘for women in science’-programme awards two fellowships to female scientists per year. In 2016 Carlijn Kamphuis and Maeike Zijlmans were the winners of the grants, each worth 25,000 euros. The fellowships gives them the opportunity to focus on their research, at the prestigious Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW) in Amsterdam.



For Women in Science Programme:


Rietje van Dam-Mieras, Netherlands Commission for Unesco (chair) ∎ Annelien Bredenoord, University Medical Center Utrecht ∎ Ellen van Donk, NIOO-KNAW ∎ Paul Emmelkamp, NIAS-KNAW ∎ Marie-José Goumans, University Medical Center Leiden ∎ Ana Lee, L’Oréal ∎ Wim van Saarloos, Leiden University, KNAW


Marike Bontenbal, Netherlands Commission for Unesco, bureau ∎ Nick den Hollander, NIAS-KNAW ∎ Coco-Chloë Aarts, L’Oréal ∎ Inge Kaaijk-Wijdogen, L’Oréal ∎ Fernie Maas, Dutch Network of Women Professors ∎ Lidwien Poorthuis, Dutch Network of Women Professors

Unesco chairs and master class

A Unesco chairholder in the Netherlands is a professor at a Dutch university or a professor, known as a ‘lector’, at a Dutch university of applied sciences who holds a specific Unesco chair and is part of the worldwide Unesco network of chairs. The Dutch chairholders’ spheres of activity involve various Unesco themes and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as education, human rights, sustainable economic growth, governance and access to knowledge and information.

In 2016, the Fontys University of Applied Sciences was the first Dutch institute of applied sciences to receive a Unesco chair. The lector appointed for this Chair on Open Educational Resources (OER) is Dr Robert Schuwer. He conducts practice-based research on OER and other forms of open education and their adoption by educators. His appointment brings the total number of Dutch chairs to five.

Together with the Dutch chairholders and the Open University, the commission organized a free online master class titled ‘Unesco en de Sustainable Development Goals: een kennismaking met beleid en praktijk’ (Unesco and Sustainable Development Goals: an introduction to policy and practice). In the master class sessions that became available in 2016, four Dutch chairholders each presented a module in which they linked Unesco’s sphere of activity and the SDGs with the research areas of their respective chairs. The Netherlands Commission provided the introductory session. The open access character of the master class underscored Unesco’s argument for free and permanent access to knowledge and information. The series, which was presented by political scientist and psychologist Anouschka Laheij, can be seen on the commission’s YouTube channel.

Unesco chairs in the Netherlands

Unesco Chair in Human Rights and Peace, Maastricht University, prof. Fons Coomans (2007) ∎ Unesco Chair in Knowledge Transfer for Sustainable Development supported by ICTs, Open University, prof. Paquita Pérez Salgado (2009) ∎ Unesco Chair in Social Learning and Sustainable Development, Wageningen University, prof. Arjen Wals ∎ Unesco Chair in Sustainability and Governance, Tilburg University, prof. Roel in ‘t Veld (2013) ∎ Unesco Chair in Open Educational Resources, Fontys Hogeschool ICT, dr. Robert Schuwer (2016).

Unesco Global Geoparks

Unesco geoparks are areas where geological heritage and landscapes of international significance are managed in a holistic manner. Preserving the special qualities of an area, educating the public about them and developing them sustainably are central to this effort. Taken together, geological history, cultural history, contemporary culture and nature determine the identity of an area. Citizens’ initiatives and local support are essential for making this apparent.

In early 2016, the Netherlands Unesco Global Geoparks Forum was set up. The purpose of this forum, an initiative of the commission, is to coordinate the Dutch contribution to the international geoparks programme. The forum evaluates the feasibility of new applications and gives the commission independent advice in this regard. It also provides general information about the geoparks programme and application procedure.

The forum comprises representatives from different Dutch organizations: the Geological Survey, the Cultural Heritage Agency, NBTC Holland Marketing and the current Unesco Global Geoparks in the Netherlands (the Hondsrug area) as well as a number of independent experts. The forum’s first informative session attracted over fifty participants. Investigations into the possibilities of applying for geopark status are currently underway in a number of regions in the Netherlands, including the Heuvelrug and the Gooi/Vecht River area (both in the provinces of Utrecht/North Holland), the Flemish-Dutch Delta (in the Brabantse Wal/Zeeland/Flanders border area), the Hollandse Delta (river area in South Holland) and the Peelrandbreuk (Southeast Brabant).

Netherlands Unesco Geopark Forum

Harry van Zon, independent expert (chair) ∎ Marike Bontenbal, Netherlands Commission for Unesco, bureau ∎ Hugo Bouter, independent expert, board member of VVFG ∎ Dré van Marrewijk, Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands ∎ Michiel van der Meulen, Geological Survey of the Netherlands ∎ Roel van Raaij, Ministry of Economic Affairs ∎ Peter Ros, RVO ∎ Gretha Roelfs, Province of Drenthe / Geopark De Hondsrug ∎ Theo Spek, Independent expert, professor in the history of landscapes ∎ Angélique Vermeulen, NBTC Holland Marketing ∎ Robert Missotten, Flemish Commission for Unesco (occasional member) ∎ Henk Weerts, Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (occasional member)



The Netherlands accommodate two institutes with a Unesco status: the Unesco-IHE Institute for Water Education (Category I) and the International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre (IGRAC) (Category II). Both are located in Delft.

The Wadden Sea is the only Man and Biosphere area in the Netherlands, The Hondsrug area is the only Dutch Unesco Global Geopark.

Reconsidering the Unesco recommendation for science

In 1974, Unesco formulated a recommendation that is meant to serve as an international standard for scientific policy. Member states and scientific organizations can use this instrument to set up ethical and regulatory policy frameworks in the areas of science, technology and innovation. But after forty years and countless fundamental changes in society and science, the recommendation has become extremely dated.

To contribute to the modernization of this instrument, the Netherlands Commission for Unesco organized a consultation with members of the Dutch scientific and academic world. The advice given by representatives from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), the Association of universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), the Rathenau Institute, the Netherlands Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) and the Permanent Representation of the Netherlands to Unesco was to completely rewrite the recommendation from scratch. 

The starting point, they stated, should be the current global scientific system. Only then can the recommendation truly do justice to the changes in knowledge and science that have resulted from digitalization, globalization, altered financial structures, the emancipation of women and minorities, and current ethical issues. The new recommendation should devote considerable attention to scientific integrity and independence, as well as the sharing of research data and open access publishing of research results.


Culture is a determining factor in who we are. It is part of our identity and influences our choices. As people attempt to develop the planet in a sustainable manner, culture and cultural diversity contribute to the direction and outcome of that process. This is reflected in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Seventeen in number, many of these goals have an obvious cultural component – think for instance of quality education, environmental protection, sustainable cities, economic growth, sustainable consumption and production, the inclusive society, gender equality and food security. Unesco is dedicated to attaining worldwide recognition of the fundamental role of culture. Its most important instruments for this are the international Unesco Cultural Conventions.

The Netherlands Commission for Unesco oversees the implementation of the cultural conventions that our country has ratified. As of now, five of them have been signed, namely the World Heritage Convention, the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage, The Hague Convention, the Convention on Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property and the Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

Expert group on Culture and Heritage

In 2016 the commission collaborated with several experts on the subject of culture and heritage:

Andrée van Es, Netherlands Commission for Unesco (chair) ∎ Lucky Belder, Centre for Intellectual Property Law, Utrecht University ∎ Daan van Dartel, National Museum of World Cultures (until October 2016) ∎ Yvonne Donders, University of Amsterdam ∎ Sabine Gimbrère, Municipality of Amsterdam ∎ Robèrt Gooren, Royal Netherlands Army ∎ Corinne Hofman, Netherlands Commission for Unesco ∎ Charlotte Huygens, Netherlands Commission for Unesco (as of May 2016) ∎ Mary Kavachos, NJR ∎ Cornelieke de Klerk, Nuffic ∎ Riemer Knoop, Reinwardt Academy ∎ Susanne Legêne, VU University Amsterdam ∎ Muriëlle van der Meer, NJR ∎ Ana Pereira-Roders, Eindhoven University of Technology ∎ Marielies Schelhaas, Netherlands Commission for Unesco ∎ Steph Scholten, Amsterdam University (until May 2016) ∎ Rieks Smeets, Unesco consultant ∎ Cas Smithuijsen, Radboud University ∎ Deborah Stolk, Prince Claus Fund ∎ Marlous Willemsen, Imagine IC

Interview with Birgit Büchner: Reaching out from the attic

Birgit Büchner is director of the Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic Museum), a historic house church in the centre of Amsterdam. In 2016, the museum organized the educational project ‘Voices of Tolerance’ under the patronage of the Netherlands National Commission for Unesco. Pupils from two Unesco schools participated.

Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder, a former house church, aims to play a bigger social role in Amsterdam and the surrounding area. In 2016 it gave some 500 young TVET students the opportunity to express their views on the theme of freedom and tolerance. Influential Amsterdammers came and listened.

In mid-2015, the Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder reopened with a new addition: an entire building with enormous windows affording a wide view of the canal and the original monument. ‘This was necessary in order to relieve the burden on the old building, but our starting point in this regard was to look to the outside world, both literally and figuratively’, says director Birgit Büchner. ‘Perhaps in this way we can contribute with our heritage and programme to a more peaceful society.’ But how do you teach values to children? And what can art and culture contribute in this regard? The search for answers to these questions led to the project ‘Voices of Tolerance’, aimed at TVET students, for whom the educational offering in this area is meagre. Büchner: ‘In light of the history of the house church, the theme was obvious: freedom and tolerance.’

Role models

The museum emphatically did not wish to teach in the traditional sense, adds Büchner. ‘When it comes to dealing with different backgrounds and tolerance, kids from VMBO schools are actually the ones who are the experts. Which is why we thought it would be important to stimulate them to think creatively about this theme themselves. And also to express their ideas and feelings in a creative manner.’ She engaged three workshop teachers to head up the process at the schools: a rapper, a fashion entrepreneur and a stand-up comedian. ‘All three are role models, people who can connect with kids, who know what this is about and have something to say themselves. For example, Massih Hutak is a rapper, a writer, a former social studies teacher and as an asylum seeker has gone through a lot himself.’

Stand by one another

On 16 November 2016, International Day for Tolerance, over 50 students presented their creations at the house church. (They are still available on YouTube.) More than anything else, the kids expressed the need to ‘belong somewhere’. A boy rapped: As a Dutch boy there’s something that makes my head a mess / people calling without thinking: less, less, less / The lies they tell on TV, spreading hate about refugees / Do I belong in this land, that’s a question for me. Others simply talked about what goes on at school and in the neighbourhood, concluding: don’t bully, don’t exclude others. Workshop teacher and stand-up comedian Anuar asked the students to hold hands with one another: ‘Don’t let go, tolerance starts with you and me.

In the morning, the students had roundtable discussions with the mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan; the spokesperson of the Amsterdam police, Ellie Lust; and the comedian Jandino Asporaat. Says Büchner: ‘When you give children a voice, you have to listen to what they say. And preferably the listeners should be people who can do something about it. Queen Máxima spoke with the students during our reopening in the trial year of 2015. The fact that she, of all people, was listening made a huge impression on them.’

‘Perhaps in this way we can contribute with our heritage and programme to a more peaceful society.’

Social cohesion

‘Naturally, the demand placed on cultural institutes changes in accordance with the times’, admits Büchner. ‘Moreover, not everything is suitable for every location. To give you just two examples: Does your institute focus on higher art? Or do you help realize citizens’ goals? Right now, Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder is working on an educational method based on ‘Voices of Tolerance’, so that other heritage institutes can translate it to their own situation, using a theme of their own.’ And since recently, Büchner has been conducting talks with two other historical sites in central Amsterdam: the Oude Kerk (Old Church, the oldest building in Amsterdam) and the Waag (Weigh House, originally a city gate). ‘With these parties, we are thinking about social cohesion and how we can contribute to it.’

World Heritage

In 2016, the commission organized a big Unesco debate titled ‘World Heritage: treasure or target?’ (see the section Heritage at risk). It also promoted world heritage in various other areas, such as contributing to the world heritage day organized by the television programme Klokhuis at the Van Nelle factory in Rotterdam and manning a booth on Dutch world heritage at a trade fair for the Dutch holiday market, the Vakantiebeurs, for the third time.

 The latter occurred in collaboration with the Dutch Foundation for World Heritage, the World Heritage Podium and the Dutch world heritage sites. During the fair, a new app was launched that provides information on the ten world heritage sites in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Training course

In collaboration with the Flemish Commission for Unesco, the Flemish agency for Immovable Property (Onroerend Erfgoed) and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, the commission put together a several-day training course for world heritage site managers and holders that offers greater knowledge on how to manage such locations. This training course, scheduled to be given in 2017, examines questions like how to make the best possible use of the obligatory management plan, what constitutes a good risk analysis, and how to deal with (local) administrators and sometimes opposing interests.


The fortieth session of the World Heritage Committee was held in Istanbul, Turkey. The meeting ended prematurely, however, because of a military coup in the host country. Despite violence throughout the city, the Dutch delegation remained unharmed. While the committee did make a decision about new inscriptions on the World Heritage List, it deferred the rest of the items on the agenda to an extra meeting in Paris, later in the year.


The Institute for Digital Archaeology invited the commission to speak at the World Heritage Strategy Forum at Harvard University in Boston as part of the session ‘Restore, rebuild, remember: technology and policy frameworks for heritage stewardship’. 

Unesco World Heritage sites in the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Schokland and surroundings (1995) ∎ Defence line of Amsterdam (1996) ∎ Historic area of Willemstad, inner city and harbour, Curaçao (1997) ∎ Mill network at Kinderdijk-Elshout (1997) ∎ Ir. D.F. Woudagemaal (D.F. Wouda steam pumping station) (1998) ∎ Droogmakerij de Beemster (Beemster polder) (1999) ∎ Rietveld Schröderhuis (Rietveld Schröder house) (2000) ∎ Wadden Sea (2009) ∎ Seventeenth-century canal ring area of Amsterdam inside the Singelgracht (2010) ∎ Van Nellefabriek (2014)

Properties submitted on the Tentative List

Bonaire Marine Park ∎ Eise Eisinga Planetarium ∎ Frontiers of the Roman empire (extension) ∎ Island of Saba ∎ Koloniën van Weldadigheid (Agricultural pauper colonies) ∎ New Defence Line of Holland ∎ Plantations in West Curaçao ∎ Sanatorium Zonnestraal

Underwater cultural heritage

Ministers Jet Bussemaker (OCW) and Bert Koenders (Foreign Affairs) announced in 2016 that the Netherlands wants to ratify the only Unesco convention it has not yet signed, the Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage. The target date for ratification is January 2021. This is further off than initially had been planned, because the government needs to alter its existing laws and there are concerns about possible interference with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The commission will be working with the Ministry of OCW on a publicity campaign to increase awareness of underwater cultural heritage.

Diversity of cultural expressions

The commission supported the National Centre of Expertise for Cultural Education and Amateur Arts (LKCA), which in 2016 organized the ‘Unesco International Week of Arts Education’ in the Netherlands.

The theme of the week was cultural diversity and refugees. In a number of cities, visitors could attend lectures and debates on cultural diversity and the right to freely develop one’s artistic and creative abilities. Furthermore, much attention was given to local art and cultural initiatives by, with and for refugees.

The commission also contributed to the LKCA’s research on cultural education and internationalization at Unesco Associated Schools and Cultural Profile Schools in the Netherlands in 2016. At the request of the Netherlands Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW), the commission gave advice on the applicability of the convention ‘Diversity of Cultural Expressions’ to the digital domain.

Heritage at Risk

Although images of the devastation in the Syrian city of Palmyra and the Iraqi city of Nimrud had already been shown around the world, it was not until after those territories were first recaptured from the ISIL/Da’esh terrorist group that it became clear how great the damage to the cultural heritage actually was. At the time of this writing, fights are still occasionally going on in Palmyra. Unesco has asked experts to map out the damage, but as long as the security situation remains precarious, work on the safeguarding of heritage cannot begin. A mission was also sent to the ancient ruins of Nimrud, one of the capital cities of the old Assyrian Empire. The ruins proved to be heavily damaged. Among other things, the Ziggurat, a pyramidal temple complex, was completely destroyed.

A convincing success in the struggle against the destruction of cultural heritage is the conviction of Ahmad Al-Faqi Al-Mahdi by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. This Malian extremist was sentenced to nine years in prison for his role in the deliberate destruction in 2012 of nine mausoleums and the secret door of the Sidi Yahia mosque, part of the Unesco world heritage site in Timbuktu. With this verdict, a crucial step has been made towards considering the destruction of cultural heritage a war crime. This increases the chances that perpetrators of such deeds will be punished. The Netherlands Commission for Unesco sees this development as an encouragement to continue its efforts for the protection of cultural heritage.


The Netherlands Commission for Unesco collaborates with many institutions and experts on the topic of heritage at risk. In 2016 the Commission worked jointly with:

Jaap van der Burg, Helicon Conservation Support ∎ Tom Compaijen, Municipality of Amsterdam ∎ Angela Dellebeke, Blue Shield/National Archives of the Netherlands ∎ Robèrt Gooren, Royal Netherlands Army ∎ Mara de Groot, Centre for Global Heritage and Development ∎ Marja van Heese, State Inspectorate for Cultural Heritage ∎ Jan Hladík, Unesco ∎ Alexy Karenowska, Institute for Digital Archaeology ∎ Rohit Jigyasu, ICOMOS/ICORP ∎ Raymond de Jong, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam ∎ Wim Weijland, National Museum of Antiquities ∎ Renate van Leijen, Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands ∎ Edwin Maes, Royal Netherlands Army ∎ Ulrich Mans, Centre for Innovation, University of Leiden ∎ Roger Michel, Institute for Digital Archaeology ∎ Sada Mire, University of Leiden ∎ Flora van Regteren Altena, Ministry of Education, Culture and Science ∎ Stephan Sanders ∎ Corien Sips, Ministry of Foreign Affairs ∎ Deborah Stolk, Prince Claus Fund ∎ Aparna Tandon, ICCROM ∎ Wouter Veraart, VU University Amsterdam ∎ Jeroen Vervliet, Peace Palace Library ∎ Biljana Volchevska, CIE / Centre for International Heritage Activities ∎ Corine Wegener, Smithsonian Institution ∎ Robert Wichink, Municipality of Amsterdam

Unesco debate

In September, the first Dutch Unesco debate took place at the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, with about 200 people in attendance. Titled ‘World heritage: treasure or target?’, the debate revolved around the question of whether the assigning of international status to a particular site or monument increases its vulnerability. Does this recognition and the resulting increase of (media) attention inadvertently make such heritage a target for extremists?

Philosopher and publicist Stephan Sanders and archaeologist Sada Mire each gave a lecture, after which they spoke with each other and the audience in a debate moderated by commission chair Andrée van Es. In his account, Sanders pointed to the idea behind the World Heritage List: the publicity was supposed to afford such heritage extra protection. ‘However, at the time of Unesco’s founding and later when the World Heritage Convention was formulated, no account was taken of the return of militant religion in its strict, dogmatic form of annihilating people and images’, according to Sanders.

But, he stated: ‘In reality, these iconoclasts are simply … power-mad. It can be given a religious form, but first and foremost it remains the perverted exercise of power.’ Protection therefore mainly comes down to bringing politics into action: geopolitics, diplomacy, ordinary political negotiations, and if necessary, power politics.

According to Mire, the deliberate destruction of heritage is a phenomenon that has occurred throughout the ages. However, heritage is not just stones or archaeological excavations to her way of thinking: ‘The value of heritage also and especially lies in the traditions, feelings and interactions of a local community in relation to it. Unfortunately, this immaterial aspect remains underexposed when Unesco ascribes world heritage status.’ People are very capable of identifying with diversity in their own history, says Mire. The fact that contemporary people can accept the idea of differences between themselves and their own ancestors is a starting point for learning how to also accept the diversity between people in the present day and age, she believes.

Both speakers agreed that world heritage is a ‘treasure’, but care must be taken with the assigning of that status. If a heritage site located in a conflict zone were put on the World Heritage List, the consequences would probably be disastrous. War in the area would turn it into a ‘target’. Before and after the debate, visitors could view the photo exhibition ‘Culture under Attack’, which was also shown at various places in Belgium this year. In 2017, the Dutch embassy in Algeria is showing the exhibition at different locations in Algeria.

Europe Lecture by Irina Bokova, Director-General of Unesco

Irina Bokova gave the Europe Lecture at the Kloosterkerk in The Hague this year. The director-general of Unesco emphasized that the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage is a war crime. She enumerated the many threats to heritage in conflict zones and spoke of strategies and measures to react to cultural cleansing, the destruction of cultural landmarks and the illicit trafficking of cultural property.

The big question is what the UN organizations, and also European and other international institutions, can do to stop the perpetrators of such crimes from getting away with impunity. Co-speakers for the lecture were Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi, chair of the International Criminal Court, and Sada Mire, archaeologist/researcher at Leiden University. The photo exhibition ‘Culture under Attack’ was presented at the reception given by the Netherlands Commission for Unesco.

First Aid Course

‘First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis’, a training course organized in Amsterdam in 2015 by the Netherlands commission in collaboration with ICCROM and the Smithsonian Institution, was repeated when the commission’s partners organized the same course in Washington in 2016.

The Netherlands commission was indirectly involved, inviting two experts from the city of Amsterdam to provide a training module on crisis communication. The commission also organized a participants’ conference at the Dutch embassy in Washington.

The commission is looking into possibilities for organizing a version of the course in the Caribbean area. Exploratory talks have been conducted with Leiden University and interested parties from several of the islands, among others. For the Caribbean, the course should be aimed at protecting cultural heritage against natural disasters. In the coming period, the commission will continue its investigation into financial possibilities and support.

Briefing on heritage and terrorism

In December, the commission worked with the Rijksmuseum, the Museums Association and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands to organize a briefing on heritage and terrorism.

After the attacks in France, Belgium and Germany, the threat level in the Netherlands has been raised to ‘substantial’. This means that heritage institutions also need to assess and weigh possible risks. Although there are no concrete indications of an attack, it is important for them to keep their security policies up-to-date. What are the possible preventive measures, how do you deal with chaotic visitor traffic, to whom do you turn for information about the security situation and what should you do if visitors panic?

The Netherlands National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium and security specialists began by presenting examples from the Netherlands and abroad. In the workshops that followed, some 100 representatives of museums, archives and monuments had the opportunity to learn how to take the threat of terrorism more deliberately into account in their security policy and organization.

Interview with Paul Abels: Security under terrorist threats: think up scenarios ahead of time

Paul Abels is Deputy Director of Analysis and Strategy of the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV). In December 2016, he was the keynote speaker at the briefing on heritage and the threat of terrorism organized by the Netherlands Commission for Unesco in collaboration with the Rijksmuseum, the Museums Association and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands.

Heritage institutes need a security policy in order to protect their staff, visitors and collections in the best possible manner. The sector would do well to take terrorist threats into account in their planning, says Paul Abels of the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV). ‘Also think about possible scenarios for when an attack happens elsewhere in the country.’

In 2016, the Terrorist Threat Assessment Netherlands (DTN) stood at level four on a scale of five. Paul Abels’ directorate employs this warning system on behalf of the NCTV. Less well-known is the Counterterrorism Alert System (ATb), meant for organizations that control vital components of society, such as the water supply. But the heritage sector does not fall under this category. ‘I can already hear them protesting’, smiles Abels, who as a celebrated Dutch church historian is more than sympathetic towards the sector. Take advantage of each other’s expertise, is his advice. ‘The Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk and the Rijksmuseum each have their own security plan and are happy to offer their colleagues a hand with information on how to detect incidents on time and deal with them accordingly.’ What’s more, institutes must realize that when an incident occurs in their neighbourhood, city or country, it can also have consequences for themselves. ‘After the attacks in Brussels, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium instantly had to come up with and carry out an emergency plan, even though not a single museum had been targeted.’

Take stock of your situation

Making a plan starts by taking stock of your specific situation, says Abels. ‘The more traffic there is in and around your museum, the greater the risk. After all, terrorists want to kill lots of people, and along with them, injure as many spectators as possible. Then take a look at your type of visitors: do Americans often come to your museum, for instance, or – at an opening – dignitaries, controversial politicians? Furthermore, can the objects exhibited in your museum be a trigger for terrorist or extremist attacks, because in the eyes of someone who commits violence they symbolize idolatry, for example, or slavery or political convictions? Anticipate what your risks are, and then make security arrangements with the local authorities. They make a risk assessment of their own, for that matter. You can also ask security professionals for advice. For example, the Sint-Janskerk (St. John’s Church) in Gouda gets advice from an ex-military police officer.’

Think up scenarios

After sizing up your situation, it’s important to think up scenarios, says Abels. ‘Immediately after an incident – even if it occurs somewhere else – are you going to close your doors or let people go in and out? Are you going to summon your entire staff? After the attacks in Brussels, for instance, many museums kept their doors shut for two weeks. And what is your plan if countries from which lots of tourists come temporarily issue a negative travel advice for the Netherlands? All of these are scenarios that you have to consider for this type of threat.’

What is terrorism?

Although it’s an endless discussion, Abels thinks it is important to explain exactly what it is that falls under terrorism. ‘Terrorism is a political concept for which there isn’t any internationally accepted definition. For us, it means all forms of violence towards people that is committed for the purpose of disrupting society and bringing about political and social change. A violent individual is a terrorist if he or she is motivated by some kind of hatred of a system.’ An attack on art alone is not terrorism in Abels’ view, but it is nevertheless alarming. Just as is extremist violence of any kind, because in the worst-case scenario that can also lead to terrorist violence.

‘What drives people to kill for their ideals?’

Driving force

At present, the terrorist threat in the Netherlands mainly comes from the radical Islamic corner, according to Abels. ‘But that doesn’t mean it can’t come from someplace else.’ What drives people to kill for their ideals? That question is what drives Abels in his turn, partly because of his background as an historian. ‘History is full of societal tensions between groups of people. I have studied the Christian, Jewish, and in recent years, Islamic stories at length. Jihadists – an extreme, almost sect-like form of Islam – see a real perspective as a result of their suicidal actions: paradise, the remission of sin, and the attaining of a new honour – even if you are a failure in society. Our relatively secular society has a hard time understanding the notions of people who act out of religious motives. And we often underestimate their power. This is why we do a lot of counter-messaging, among other things; it is extremely necessary that a different point of view be heard. We have to show that violence is not the way.’

Communication and Information

When it comes to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the free exchange of ideas and an independently functioning media are extremely important. The more widely people share information, the better choices they can make in organizing their lives and acting more sustainably. A free, pluralistic media contributes to this and also strengthens the functioning of democracy by acting as a check on governments and administrations. Unesco supports this idea with two intergovernmental programmes: the International Programme for the Development of Communication IPDC) and the Information for All Programme (IFAP).

The protection of journalists and a free media are important themes for the Netherlands. The chair of the IPDC council, Albana Shala of Free Press Unlimited, comes from our country. Yvonne Donders, a member of the Netherlands Commission for Unesco, is a member of the IFAP council. In 2016, the commission focused in particular on Persist, a project for sustained access to digital information, and Unesco’s Memory of the World programme.

On the subjects of IPDC and IFAP the Commission worked in 2016 together with:

Yvonne Donders, Netherlands Commission for Unesco (chair) ∎ Lucky Belder, Centre for intellectual Property Law, Utrecht University ∎ Douwe Buzeman, Ministry of Foreign Affairs ∎ Marga Groothuis, University of Leiden ∎ Mary Kachavos, NJR ∎ Marian Koren, National Library of the Netherlands ∎ Michiel Leenaars, NLnet / Education Council of the Netherlands ∎ Tarlach McGonagle, Institute for Information Law, University of Amsterdam ∎ Muriëlle van der Meer, NJR ∎ Nol Reijnders, Ministry of Education, Culture and Science ∎ Albana Shala, Free Press Unlimited ∎ Mascha Wismans, Permanent Delegation of the Netherlands to Unesco

Interview with Jan Bos: Political tensions put documentary heritage under pressure

Jan Bos is team leader of Collections at the National Library of the Netherlands and member of the Netherlands Memory of the World Committee. He also chairs the Register Sub-committee for Unesco in Paris. This committee does the first round of evaluations for worldwide nominations.

Contrary to what its name suggests, the National Library of the Netherlands is not housed in an imposing building. However, as Jan Bos leads the way through various corridors, (security) doors and rooms full of bookcases to his study, you can’t help being impressed: this is where the collective memory of the Netherlands is kept in book form.

Documentary heritage represents a special value, for instance because it is exceptionally beautiful or is the first of its kind. Ninety-five percent of the heritage in the Memory of the World (MoW) Register falls under the category of ‘undisputed’, says Bos. Even though some of these documents may be politically charged, that does not cause conflicts. ‘Anne Frank would not have written her diaries in the same way if it weren’t for the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis. But no one has ever contested the diaries as heritage.’


Until three years ago, the MoW Register operated away from the spotlights as a programme for experts. That changed when Japan nominated farewell letters written by kamikaze pilots for inscription on the register, thereby provoking its neighbours. Although the nomination was withdrawn, China counteracted by nominating documents about the bloodbath of Nanking in 1937 and about ‘comfort women’, the term for women and girls forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Army. The controversy is still raging in the papers of Southeast Asia.

As a result of these developments, political tensions influenced the MoW programme for the first time. And it can happen again. Which is a pity, Bos feels. ‘This has nothing to do with whether documents are good or bad. In order to be inscribed on the register, they must have significance for the world. Mao’s Red Book could be in it. Indeed, the archives of the Dutch West India Company are in it, and they are about the slave trade – black pages in Dutch history, and at the same time it’s important that they be preserved, also for the victims and their descendants.’ Inscribing a document on the register does not mean that Unesco subscribes to its ideas, he emphasizes. ‘The idea behind MoW is: What can we learn from the past?’

Revising the programme

Apart from political influences, another issue has come into play with MoW. The programme has existed for a quarter of a century and is in need of revision. ‘Ten years ago, the internet and social media did not yet have the influence they have today’, says Bos. ‘According to the MoW guidelines, documents and collections must be changeless. So what you do about a phenomenon like Wikipedia? The criteria have to be adjusted so that digital expressions can be included.’ A further cause for revision is the appointment of members to the various committees. Member states are demanding more transparency in the area of nominations, term limits, and the representation of certain countries and regions.

In 2016, two workgroups started combing through the guidelines and thinking about adaptations for its statutes. The first proposals are expected in 2017. A number of countries want to increase the extent of the member states’ influence on the MoW Register. That puts Unesco in a difficult position: How do you prevent further-reaching political influence on a programme for experts? And the other way around, how do you respect the fact that different interests play a role in the world? ‘We try to make the documents the first order of importance’, says Bos. ‘If they meet the MoW criteria, you have to judge them in a serious manner. Once in a while, time is our friend; a political storm blows over and a nomination goes through after all.’

Women’s rights

Unesco wants to promote freedom by giving access to knowledge, including controversial documents. When this leads to conflict, you wonder whether the nomination of a particular piece of heritage serves the goals of Unesco. ‘In the academic sense, perhaps it does’, asserts Bos, ‘but that will never be the only consideration’. Discussion about a document’s authenticity or world significance can be cleared up with supplementary documents or opposing arguments by parties that feel disadvantaged. That might not go far enough for some countries, he thinks. ‘In that case, they would like such a nomination to be taken off the table. Then it’s a question of how firmly the director-general of Unesco can hold his or her stand, knowing that the organization exists thanks to the contributions of the member states.’

Bos feels positive about the increasing interest in MoW. ‘You can tell by the growing number of nominations, among other things. The programme is alive and becoming more full-grown. I myself am intrigued time and again by the diversity of material that passes before my eyes. Little did I know that New Zealand was the first country to grant women suffrage or that in the eighth century they made such splendid Bibles in Armenia. People might think that such a list is for nerds, but I see how much these documents can tell us about exploratory expeditions, peoples, cultures, beliefs. Fascinating.’

Digital sustainability

The world runs a great risk as the result of the increasing digitization of society: the loss of digital memory. The rapid obsolescence of software often makes it difficult to read information from only ten years ago. Furthermore, storage media such as hard drives have a short lifespan because they deteriorate so quickly.

In the Persist project, Unesco works with the ICT industry, governments and preservation institutes such as archives and libraries to make international agreements on how to prevent this memory loss and keep digital material accessible for the future. The Netherlands Commission for Unesco coordinates the project.

In March, the commission took part in a Persist global conference in Abu Dhabi, where the ‘Selection Guidelines for Digital Heritage’ were launched. These guidelines offer governments and archival institutes information on how to select the objects that are worth keeping from amongst collections that are often huge. During the meeting, the participants also discussed the launching of an online platform for obsolete software.

The commission brought the Persist project to the attention of experts at the World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) in Ohio and the annual congress of the International Council on Archives in Seoul, South Korea.

Persist Programme Committee

David Fricker, International Council on Archives, chair ∎ Robert Buckley, National Archives of the United Arab Emirates ∎ Nataša Milić-Frayling, University of Nottingham ∎ Stein van Oosteren, Permanent Delegation of the Netherlands to Unesco ∎ Ingrid Parent, University of British Colombia, former president of IFLA


Abdulla El Reyes, National Archives of the United Arab Emirates ∎ Ryder Kouba, American University in Cairo ∎ Marco de Niet, DEN Foundation, Netherlands ∎ Iskra Panevska, Unesco – Sector for Communication and Information ∎ Vincent Wintermans, Netherlands Commission for Unesco, bureau


In 2016 the commission worked together on the theme of sustainable access to information with:

Erik-Jan Zürcher, Netherlands Commission for Unesco (chair) ∎ Erik van Aert, NWO ∎ Thomas van den Brink, NJR ∎ Elvira Caneda Cabrera, Leiden University Library / National Library of the Netherlands ∎ Yvonne Donders, Netherlands Commission for Unesco ∎ Marc Dupuis, SURF ∎ Andrée van Es, Netherlands Commission for Unesco ∎ Rik Janssen, KNAW ∎ Marga Koelen, University of Twente ∎ John Marks, Netherlands Commission for Unesco ∎ Marco de Niet, DEN Foundation, Netherlands ∎ Julia Noordegraaf, University of Amsterdam ∎ Marcel Ras, Netherlands Coalition for Digital Sustainability ∎ Reinier Salverda, Memory of the World Committee of the Netherlands ∎ Barbara Sierman, National Library of the Netherlands ∎ Marielies Schelhaas, Netherlands Commission for Unesco, secretary-general ∎ Heiko Tjalsma, DANS ∎ Vincent Wintermans, Netherlands Commission for Unesco, bureau

Digitizing shared documentary heritage

During the WLIC, there was a special session on how institutes can collaborate better on digitizing collections that originate from other countries. National libraries of countries with a colonial past often have such collections.

The commission made an analysis of this subject and presented as an example the digitization of the Dutch East India Company archives, which are spread across the world. What is striking about collaborative projects in the area of digitization is that many are initiated – and usually also financed – by countries that at some point in their history had been under colonial rule and today are technologically and economically advanced. Think for instance of Korea, China and Qatar. But poorer countries have seldom found their way to the national libraries and archives of their former colonizers. The Memory of the World programme should assume the responsibility of facilitating such collaborative efforts. Unesco’s new recommendation on documentary heritage delves into this matter.

Memory of the World

The Memory of the World (MoW) programme stimulates the preservation and accessibility of documentary heritage. It also aims to increase general awareness of the value represented by these documents.

Over the past few years, the programme has encountered turbulence as the result of several countries having submitted politically sensitive nominations to the international MoW Register, the Unesco list of documentary heritage with world significance. After Japan’s nomination of kamikaze pilots’ farewell letters was followed by China’s nominations of documents on the slaughter in Nanking and forced prostitution in Asia during the Second World War (‘comfort women’), Japan threatened to suspend payment of its contribution to Unesco. That country is one of the biggest net contributors.

The commission organized a meeting of experts from the National Archives of the Netherlands, the Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (NIOD), the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) and the Netherlands MoW Committee to draw up recommendations for Unesco on how to settle this politically sensitive dossier in the best possible manner. Among other things, the experts advised Unesco to consider nominations for inscription on the register only when all parties involved have come to terms with the shared past to which these documents refer or are in the process of doing so. The Netherlands furthermore takes the standpoint that MoW should remain a programme of experts that is safeguarded against political pressure.

With the help of experts from its network, the commission drew up an additional recommendation on the inscription of digital documents on the register and handed it over to the MoW International Advisory Committee. In 2017, that committee will present a proposal for modernizing the guidelines for nominations.

So far, the Netherlands has eleven objects inscribed on the MoW Register, including the diaries of Anne Frank, the Dutch East India Company archives and the Utrecht Psalter. One of the new nominations is the archive of Amsterdam notaries submitted by the Amsterdam Municipal Archives. This archive contains all of the notarial acts drawn up between 1578 and 1915. It contains information about millions of Amsterdammers – mostly anonymous citizens, but also famous people like the artist Rembrandt van Rijn and the colonial administrator Peter Stuyvesant. Unesco’s decision on the nomination will be announced in 2017.

Unesco Memory of the World Committee of the Netherlands

Reinier Salverda, University College London & Frisian Academy (KNAW) (chair) ∎ Jan Bos, National Library of the Netherlands ∎ Irene Gerrits, National Archives of the Netherlands ∎ Gerard Nijssen, curator ∎ Martine Pronk, Utrecht University Library ∎ Marco Streefkerk, DEN Foundation, Netherlands ∎ Valika Smeulders, Pasado Presente ∎ Henk Wals, International Institute of Social History ∎ Hans van der Windt, Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision


Hanna Pennock, Ministry of Education, Culture and Science ∎ Vincent Wintermans, Netherlands Commission for Unesco, bureau

Netherlands inscriptions on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register

Archives of the Dutch East India Company (2003), jointly with India, Indonesia, South Africa and Sri Lanka ∎ Library Ets Haim - Livraria Montezinos (2003) ∎ Diaries of Anne Frank (2009) ∎ Archives of the Middelburgsche Commercie Compagnie (2011), jointly with Curaçao and Suriname ∎ Desmet Collection (2011) ∎ Archives of the Dutch West India Company (Westindische Compagnie) (2011), jointly with Brazil, Ghana, Guyana, Netherlands Antilles, Suriname, United Kingdom and United States of America ∎ La Galigo (2011), jointly with Indonesia ∎ Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei, draft manuscript page and Das Kapital. Erster Band, Karl Marx’s personal annotated copy (2013) ∎ Babad Diponegoro or Autobiographical Chronicle of Prince Diponegoro (1785-1855). A Javanese nobleman, Indonesian national hero and pan-Islamist (2013), jointly with Indonesia ∎ Utrecht Psalter (2015) ∎ Selected data collections of the world’s language diversity at the Language Archive (2015)


Annual Report Netherlands Commission for Unesco 2016

© Netherlands Commission for Unesco Editor Martijn van Eck ∎ Interviews Christel van Dam, Ellen Meijer ∎ Report Martijn van Eck, the bureau of the Netherlands Commission for Unesco ∎ Copy Editor Ellen Meijer ∎ English translation Jane Bemont, Elegant English, Amsterdam ∎ Design ConceptID, Rotterdam ∎ Web design Cinnamon Interactive, Leeuwarden