'Tree of Peace' not an official award, UNESCO says amid Yunus controversy

It is a work of art created by sculptor Hedva Ser, who is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, the organisation says

Senior Correspondentbdnews24.com
Published : 29 March 2024, 07:51 AM
Updated : 29 March 2024, 07:51 AM

UNESCO has said the 'Tree of Peace' is not an official award from the organisation amid questions surrounding its status in Bangladesh after Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus received the prize.

The controversy started when the Yunus Centre announced that Prof Yunus had received the Tree of Peace award at the closing dinner of the 11th Global Baku Conference, implying that the accolade was conferred by UNESCO.

The announcement provoked a backlash from government officials, with Education Minister Mohibul Hassan Chowdhury accusing Yunus of misleading the public by linking the award directly to UNESCO.

Following the controversy, bdnews24.com sought clarification from UNESCO and a spokesperson from the organisation explained that the 'Tree of Peace' is a piece of art created by sculptor Hedva Ser.

"Although Hedva Ser is a UNESCO goodwill ambassador, her artwork does not constitute an official UNESCO award."

Speaking to the media on Mar 27, Mohibul accused the Yunus Centre of spreading misinformation by representing the award handed out by Ser as an official UNESCO accolade.

"The issue here is that Dr Yunus, who is already convicted for labour law violations, is spreading misleading information using UNESCO's name. If this baseless propaganda doesn't stop, we will take legal steps."

To reinforce his point, Mohibul said that UNESCO's headquarters had confirmed that no official honour had been bestowed upon Yunus. Ser also clarified the award was not from UNESCO but was presented at the Ghaznavi Center's invitation, he added.

On Thursday, Foreign Minister Hasan Mahmud echoed Mohibul, pointing out that while UNESCO was affiliated with the conference, it had no ties to the award.

In response to these statements, the Yunus Centre issued a press release on Mar 28, asserting that official communication from the Baku Forum indicated that the Tree of Peace would be awarded by UNESCO.

It provided a copy of the email, the programme schedule, and a video of the award ceremony as evidence.

However, according to a UNESCO statement, while the Tree of Peace has been presented as an 'official UNESCO trophy' since 2012 and given as a gift by the director-general to various dignitaries and heads of state, it remains an artistic creation by Ser and not an award.

Ser has been installing 'Tree of Peace' sculptures around the world and presented one to Yunus at the Baku conference, an honour also bestowed upon another Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Kailash Satyarthi, the organisation said.

In September 2014, UNESCO's then chief Irina Bokova presented the 'Tree of Peace' to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.