UNESCO chief regrets United States decision to withhold funding

2 November 2011

The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today voiced regret over the decision by the United States to withhold its dues to the agency, saying that reduced funding will affect its ability to implement crucial programmes in education, support for emerging democracies and the fight against extremism.

“UNESCO is encouraged that the United States will maintain its membership in the organization and hopes that a resolution to the funding issue will ultimately be identified,” said Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, in a statement. “Until that happens, it will be impossible for us to maintain our current level of activity.”

“I call on the US administration, Congress and the American people to find a way forward and continue support for UNESCO in these turbulent times,” she said.

UNESCO’s General Conference on Monday voted to admit Palestine as a full member of the Paris-based agency. The decision was supported by 107 member States, with 14 against and 52 abstentions. The United States had opposed the move.

Meanwhile, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced deep concern over Israel’s response to the UNESCO General Conference’s decision in favour of Palestinian membership.

Media reports yesterday indicated that Israel plans to accelerate the building of new apartments in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and that the transfer of revenue to the Palestinian Authority would be suspended in the light of the decision at UNESCO.

“Israeli settlement activity is contrary to international law and the Roadmap and prejudices final status negotiations,” said a statement issued by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson. “The Secretary-General calls on the Government of Israel to freeze all settlement activity and to continue to transfer VAT [value added tax] and customs revenues that belong to the Palestinian Authority and are essential to enable it to function, in line with Israel’s obligations.”

The Secretary-General also expressed concerned over the implications for UNESCO’s funding following the decision of the agency’s General Conference, according to the statement.

“The decision was the prerogative of Member States, and he wishes to work with them on practical solutions to preserve UNESCO’s financial resources.

“The Secretary-General is worried at the trajectory of developments between Israel and the Palestinians and calls on the parties to act responsibly and seriously for peace.”

He called on both parties to refrain from provocative actions and work with the so-called Quartet, comprising the UN, the European Union, Russia and the United States towards serious proposals on borders and security in the coming three months, in the context of their shared commitment to resuming direct negotiations.

Ms. Bokova said she believed that at a time of economic crisis and social transformation, UNESCO’s work was vital to promote global stability and democratic values, which she said were core interests of the US.

“The United States is a critical partner in UNESCO’s work. The withholding of US dues and other financial contributions – required by US law – will weaken UNESCO’s effectiveness and undermine its ability to build free and open societies,” she said.

US funding has enabled UNESCO to develop and sustain free and competitive media in Iraq, Tunisia and Egypt. In Afghanistan, US support has helped UNESCO to teach thousands of police officers to read and write.

UNESCO literacy programmes in other conflict-affected countries give people the critical skills and confidence they need to fight violent extremism, Ms. Bokova pointed out, adding that the agency is training journalists to cover elections objectively in a bid to sustain the democratic spirit of the so-called “Arab Spring.”

“Across the world, we stand up for each journalist who is attacked or killed, because we are the UN agency with the mandate to protect freedom of expression. In Washington, earlier this year, I awarded the UNESCO Press Freedom Award to an imprisoned Iranian journalist, Ahmad Zeidabadi,” she said.

UNESCO is mandated with promoting Holocaust Education worldwide, and has, with funding provided by the US and Israel, been developing curricula to ensure that the Holocaust is never forgotten.

In addition, following the adoption of UN General Assembly resolution 60/7 in 2005, the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme introduced a global initiative to encourage Holocaust education and remembrance in order to help prevent future acts of genocide. This includes print and online educational products, seminars, exhibits and a film series.

US support has also enabled UNESCO to put science at the service of people, Ms. Bokova said, citing as an example a global effort to expand ocean-based tsunami warning systems.

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UNESCO votes to admit Palestine as full member

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today voted to admit Palestine as a full member of the Paris-based agency.