Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Meeting of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO

Photo courtesy of Laura Engel

The United States National Commission for UNESCO met on Monday, November 28th at George Washington University.

Education (Paul Kruchoski)
Secretary Clinton visits UNESCO – In May, Secretary Clinton visited Paris for the launch of the UNESCO Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education.  The initiative brought together governments, foundations, and corporations to raise over $5 million for UNESCO’s work to strengthen education for women around the globe.  This was the first visit to UNESCO by a U.S. Secretary of State.
Teaching Respect for All and Holocaust Education – In October, the United States announced two new extra-budgetary contributions to UNESCO education programs.  The first will revive UNESCO’s work from the mid-1990s on using education to build respect in multiethnic and multicultural societies.  The project – a partnership between the United States and Brazil – will offer new curricula and tools for educators.  We plan to officially launch the program in early 2012.  The second contribution will provide $250,000 to expand UNESCO’s Holocaust Education program, which provides educational resources on how to understand the underlying social factors that led up to the Holocaust and how individuals can help prevent mass atrocities in their own societies. 
UNESCO helps to Lead ECOSOC Ministerial – UNESCO helped to shape the discussion leading up to and during the UN Economic and Social Council Ministerial in July.  This year’s ministerial session focused on the internationally agreed development goals in education, including the Education for All Goals. 
UNESCO Youth Forum – On the eve of the General Conference, UNESCO hosted its 7th Youth Forum.  This year, we piloted a new process for selecting the U.S. youth representatives.  The process offered options for YouTube video submissions and drew heavily upon social media to spread the word.  It also engaged youth in the selection of the finalists.  Our two final reps – Blair Brettschneider and Andrew Leon Hanna – were outstanding.  You can read their thoughts on the Forum here and here
UNESCO Nat Com Youth Working Group hosts event in NYC – This fall, the National Commission, the State Department, and USAID co-hosted an event entitled “Youth Driving Change: Global Youth & Civic Engagement” in New York.  The event, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, brought together Under Secretary of State Maria Otero and prominent youth voices from around the world to discuss how youth are shaping transformations around the world.  The event was the first activity organized by our National Commission Youth Working Group.  You can watch archival video of the event here.

Social and Human Science (Marlese Durr)
As of October 31, 2011 the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Social and Human Science sector has undergone re-organization. The focus of the sector continues to emphasize and promote human rights research; advances education in human rights; leads the action in the fight against all forms of discrimination at the national, regional, and international levels; fosters cooperation among all sectors and networks; promotes democracy and further reflects on new forms and combating violence; while encouraging human rights research with its partners. 
Highlighting that using the idea that UNESCO Stands for Human Rights, the work within Major Program III on Social and Human Sciences will be conducted through the following streams:  
·         Human Rights and Social Inclusion
·         Human Rights, Democracy, Youth  and Social innovation
·         Human Rights and Global Environmental Change
·         Human Rights and Bioethics

Natural Sciences & Engineering (Jana Hall)
-          L’Oreal Science Awards
-          Malta Conference
-          SESAME
-          New Organization
-          Obiang Prize
-          Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC)
-          International Hydrological Program (IHP)
-          Geoscience/Geoparks
-          Biodiversity/Man and the Biosphere

Communications/Information (Aaron Mitchell)
In the Communication and Information Sector (CI), the latest projects currently underway deal with expanding access to educational and scientific information to developing countries through two initiatives: Open Educational Resources and Open Access to Scientific Research. Both initiatives aim to make publically-funded research and publications available to global audiences at no cost. UNESCO recently launched online platforms designed to expand the availability of these resources online. Additionally, the CI Sector, in partnership with the Commonwealth of Learning and the Hewlett Foundation, is planning a June 2012 international celebration of the 20th Anniversary of Open Educational Resources, which will include an updated declaration of principles and values.
In addition to the above initiatives, the CI Sector continues its work on documentary preservation, press freedom, media development, and technology competency. As the culmination of ongoing programs, the sector recently released the “UNESCO ICT Competency Framework for Teachers.” This framework serves as curriculum guidance for secondary and tertiary level educators to develop coursework for increasing literacy, understanding and awareness of technological tools and their applications.

Culture (Mindy Fountain)
40th Anniversary of the World Heritage Convention
The Culture sector is gearing up for the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention in 2012.  We are working with interagency colleagues on planning and developing U.S. celebrations and would appreciate suggestions and input from the Commissioners.

International Jazz Day
 One of the successes of this fall’s General Conference was the adoption of our resolution identifying April 30th as International Jazz Day. The first celebration will be in 2012, and preparations are already underway in conjunction with Goodwill Ambassador to UNESCO Herbie Hancock and the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. More information will circulate as it becomes available.

The International Center for Women Artists (ICWA)
Another success at the General Conference was the approval of the International Center for Women Artists, to be established in Amman, Jordan, as a UNESCO Category II Center. As many of you know this is a project that has received leadership and support from both our Mission to UNESCO as well as members of the U.S. National Commission.
With the UNESCO Category II status now approved, it is hoped that UNESCO will help organize an international design competition for the creation of a new logo for ICWA, which will be paired with the UNESCO logo for all of ICWA's communications in the future. 
Commissioner Sheree Wen is working on the formation of a new ICWA Advisory Council to bringing together international business partners to assist with development.

New Director General Elected at recent International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultureal Property (ICCROM) Conference
Stefano de Caro, a highly regarded museum expert with a background in archeology, was just elected by the ICCROM Council as their new Director General. De Caro, an Italian, is based in Naples and has worked on World Heritage issues in the past.

Ongoing work on Cultural Preservation
One program we’d like to highlight for you is the U.S. Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation, run out of the Education and Cultural Affairs office at the Department of State. ‘This program has supported more than 700 projects in over 100 countries since its inception in 2001, including more than 100 projects at over 60 World Heritage Sites.  The program has expended more than 34 million dollars towards preserving tangible and intangible cultural heritage, such as the restoration of historic buildings, assessment and conservation of museum collections, and documentation of vanishing traditional craft techniques.  Especially in the current political climate surrounding UNESCO, this is a great example to use of U.S. engagement with and commitment to cultural preservation around the world.  The U.S. continues its commitment to cultural preservation and also remains engaged in work related to the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property, and of course the 1972 World Heritage Convention.  

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Appearance by Patrice Lyons

Patrice Lyons, the Secretary-Treasurer of Americans for UNESCO, appeared this October in a panel discussion of the Internet of Things (that is available via streaming video). The Panel was part of ITU Telecom World '11, She spoke from the perspective of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (of which she is also Legal Counsel). CNRI works to develop a comprehensive information management system for assigning, managing, and resolving persistent identifiers, known as "handles," for digital objects and other resources in a networked environment. Her participation focused on the means to manage the information coming from the handles of an estimated 50 billion Internet connected objects in 2020 as well as other sources.

Meeting of the Board of Directors of Americans for UNESCO

Eric Woodard and Kelly Siekman from the State Department addressing the Board
Board members shown on right are Roger Coate, Patrice Lyons and Mary Futrell
A meeting of the Board of Directors of Americans for UNESCO took place on Friday, November 18, 2011.

Kelly Siekman, the Director of the Office of UNESCO Affairs in the State Department, and Eric Woodard, the Chair of U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, provided the Board with a detailed briefing on the recent General Conference of UNESCO. Their discussion centered on the vote by the General Conference to admit Palestine to membership in UNESCO and its implications. They emphasized that, while the law requires the United States Government to withhold our contribution to UNESCO, the United States remains a member of the Organization and that the U.S. delegation to UNESCO in Paris and the related office in the State Department in Washington remain fully staffed and active. Under the law, both the assessed and the voluntary contributions to UNESCO are now being withheld. Since they have been authorized and appropriated by the Congress, the funds are currently being held by the State Department, but are subject to being reprogrammed for other purposes; currently no such action is contemplated.

The Obama administration remains convinced that UNESCO is a worthwhile organization useful to U.S. foreign policy interests. The media coverage of the Palestinian vote generated considerable interest in the United States, both by supporters and by opponents of UNESCO and U.S. membership in UNESCO. The State Department is investigating the complex issues of domestic U.S. law and international law involved in the admission of Palestine to UNESCO membership and in the withholding of U.S. funds. (Palestine will not be a member state of UNESCO until it files is accession documents, but the Congress is taking the vote of the General Conference as defining the intent of the Organization.)

The United States delegation lobbied against admission of Palestine but found it difficult to convince the delegates of other nations, although a great many abstained from the vote. Not surprisingly, it has been difficult to explain the complex domestic politics in the United States underlying our positions in this matter; the Constitutionally defined ability of the Congress to control funding and of the President to control foreign policy -- a situation underlying the current situation -- is perhaps poorly understood abroad.

Other Business

Two Board members were in Paris at the time of the General Conference and they too reported on the event. The impressions included great concern by members of the UNESCO Secretariat about the cuts and uncertainty caused by the U.S. withholding of funds, and disappointment of other delegations with the position taken by the United States with respect to the right of Palestine to membership in UNESCO.

The main focus of the rest of the Board meeting was a revision of the Bylaws of Americans for UNESCO. The revisions included an expansion of the membership of the Board and its Executive Committee and separation of the position of Secretary-Treasurer of the AU into two positions - Secretary and Treasurer.

The meeting marked the retirement of Nicole Varchaver who served for many years as a secretary to Americans for UNESCO, rendering a huge service to AU. We will miss her dedicated service, her cheerful demeanor, and indeed her presence.

The Board meeting offered an opportunity for members to meet Charles Prince who has become an intern for Americans for UNESCO. Paul Danaj who has been serving as intern will reduce his hours of service as he has accepted a position at the Department of State.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

More on the United States Withholding of funds from UNESCO

The General Conference of UNESCO has voted to accept Palestine as a Member State of the Organization. U.S. law requires that if a specialized agency of the United Nations accepts as a member an entity that does not meet the international standards to be considered a nation, then then the United States must withhold its contributions to that agency. It seems clear that the law was specifically intended to deny Palestinian membership in these agencies. Shortly after the vote, the United States government announced that in compliance with that law, the United States would withhold the final contribution for 2011 (some $60 million).

Here are some added materials on that situation:

UNESCO Water Specialist Casey Walther working on a project in Iraq

Rutgers University International Institute of Peace (IIP) Designated as UNESCO Category II Center

IIP Co-Founder Aldo Civico (left) with
UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Forest Whitaker (right)

At its recent General Conference, UNESCO approved the International Institute of Peace at Rutgers University as a UNESCO Category II Center.
UNESCO Category II Centers are institutions that don't receive funding from nor are legally part of UNESCO, but maintain association with UNESCO through a formal agreement.
The International Institute of Peace is the second UNESCO Category II Center in the United States. It joins the International Center for Integrated Water Resources Management (ICIWARM) based at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer Institute for Water Resources (IWR) based in Alexandria, VA.
For information about IIP and its designation as a UNESCO Category II Center, go here

Congratulations IIP!

UNESCO Passed Engineering Initiative

The recent General Conference passed a resolution stating that it:
Requests the Director-General to particularly focus on engineering education, especially at the universities and targeting curricular innovation, with a view to gear engineering education towards sustainable development, the attainment of the internationally agreed development goals and other emerging challenges, and to build in this regard, as well as on the lead role of UNESCO in the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.
The following was offered in support of that resolution:
 1. Engineering is crucial for innovation and economic development, but it is also a key factor in advancing social and human development, especially in addressing global challenges such as poverty alleviation, energy, climate change, land degradation and water scarcity. 
2. At the same time, engineering is an evolving part of society. As the UNESCO Engineering Report of 2010 has demonstrated, there are serious concerns all around the world about a decline of interest and enrollment by young people in engineering and therefore shortages of engineers, and about the brain drain from developing countries. 
3. The Executive Board at its 185th session had asked the Director-General for proposals regarding the strengthening of education, capacity-building and research in the field of engineering, in the context of the submission of the Draft Programme and Budget for 2012-2013 (36 C/5).
4. In document 186 EX/INF.4, the Director-General made her first preliminary proposals on a flexible, cost-effective, cross-cutting UNESCO Engineering Initiative whose objective was to address key challenges of engineering education, capacity-building and development. Answers will be sought why young people around the world are turning away from engineering and how this may be addressed, the public understanding of engineering will be promoted, as well as the effective application of engineering and green technologies to poverty reduction, sustainable development and climate change.
5. Document 186 EX/INF.4 has noted strong interest on collaborating on this UNESCO Engineering initiative, as expressed by the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO), organizations such as the International Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences (CAETS), International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) and Engineers Without Borders (EWB). As could be witnessed at the World Engineering Convention in Geneva 2011, international and national engineering associations are interested in joining the UNESCO Engineering Initiative. A crucial objective will be to align engineering education with the objectives of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, in order to fully leverage engineering expertise to the benefit of mankind. This task can only be addressed by joining the efforts of UNESCO, its Member States, as well as international and national associations and institutions involved in promoting engineering.

The Gender Perspective in Bioethics

Friday, November 11, 2011

UNESCO Seeks Donations Now!

The Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova today launched an online site allowing Member States, public institutions, foundations and citizens to donate to UNESCO.

This new site is one of the emergency measures announced today to fill the immediate $65m shortfall in UNESCO’s budget arising from the US decision to with-hold dues owed to the Organization.

Donations can be made online at:

UNESCO suspends year-end projects due to U.S. funding cut

CNN Reports:
UNESCO has suspended its projects and commitments until the end of year because the United States cut its $65 million funding in the wake of the agency's acceptance of Palestine for full membership, the agency's chief said Thursday. 
Irina Bokova, the director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, said the agency's $65 million deficit is now its "most pressing issue." "This deficit is the sum owed by the United States for the year 2011," Bokova said on the occasion of the closing of UNESCO's general conference. "So we have to take drastic action, and we must take it now, at this general conference," 
Bokova said. "I have suspended all of our commitments. I have suspended our projects during this period of revision until the end of the year. "We are reviewing all activities in all areas, in all sectors, including contractual commitments, staff travel, publications, communications costs, meetings, and the rest. 
"With all these measures, we believe we can generate savings of $35 million. But this alone will not solve our problem," Bokova said.
Read more..... 

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Conversations With America: Bridging Divides: Youth, Peace and Reconciliation

UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Forest Whitaker and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations Esther Brimmer recently sat down for a State Department interview to discuss youth, peacebuilding and UNESCO.

Click image below to see the full interview. 

What happens after the UNESCO admission of Palestine

In the short term, unless there is some new development, the U.S. retains its membership and vote at UNESCO; we will continue to participate in UNESCO meeting and programs. As our Ambassador to UNESCO David Killion has stated, we remain committed to working with UNESCO. However in the longer term, the funding issue prescribed by U.S. law - and the questions it opens regarding our long term membership at UNESCO - remain. You can see more about the official U.S. position by watching the State Department Press Briefing from 11/1/11. You can read a transcript of this briefing here.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

World Science Day for Peace and Development

Established by UNESCO in 2001, the WSDPD is celebrated on 10 November each year. The Day is an occasion to recall UNESCO's mandate for and commitment to science.

The WSDPD's objectives are:
  • To strengthen public awareness on the role of science for peaceful and sustainable societies 
  • To promote national and international solidarity for a shared science between countries 
  • To renew national and international commitment for the use of science for the benefit of societies 
  • To draw attention to the challenges faced by science and raise support for the scientific endeavor

Friday, November 04, 2011

Meeting on STI Policy Instruments

Fifty distinguished experts in science, technology and innovation from across the globe met at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris from 19 to 20 October to discuss science policy in their respective countries. A technical workshop “Towards a Global Observatory of Policy Instruments on Science, Technology and Innovation” aimed to expand UNESCO’s Science Policy Information Network (SPIN) from a regional to a global level.

 During the seminar decision-makers from government, academia and multinational enterprises were to examine a range of policy instruments, as well as legal frameworks meant to improve methods for gathering, classifying and standardizing information around the world.

The Science Policy Information Network (SPIN) program was launched in Montevideo (Uruguay) in 2010 by UNESCO’s Regional Bureau for Science. The innovative SPIN information platform equips decision-makers and specialists in science and technology policy with powerful graphical and analytical tools, maps, and statistics.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

31 new members elected UNESCO’s Executive Board

UNESCO’s Member States attending the 36th session of the General Conference, the Organization’s highest governing body, have elected 31 new members to the 58-member Executive Board, the Organization’s other governing body.

Below is a list of elected countries, by electoral group:
Group I: Austria, France, Spain, Italy, United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, United States of America.
Group II: Russian Federation, Czech Republic, Montenegro, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Group III: Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico.
Group IV: Republic of Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea.
Group V (a): Nigeria, Namibia, Ethiopia, Mali, Gabon, Malawi, Angola, Gambia.
Group V (b): United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Flash: U.S. Reelected to UNESCO Executive Board

Statement by the Director-General of UNESCO on Withholding of Funds by the United States

 Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General© UNESCO / Eric Bouttier 

In this time of economic crisis and social transformation, I believe that UNESCO’s vital work to promote global stability and democratic values is in America’s core interests.
The United States is a critical partner in UNESCO’s work. The withholding of U.S. dues and other financial contributions – required by U.S. law - will weaken UNESCO’s effectiveness and undermine its ability to build free and open societies.
U.S. funding helps UNESCO to develop and sustain free and competitive media in Iraq, Tunisia and Egypt. In Afghanistan, U.S. support is helping UNESCO to teach thousands of police officers to read and write.  UNESCO literacy programmes in other areas of conflict give people the critical thinking skills and confidence they need to fight violent extremism. To sustain the democratic spirit of the Arab Spring, UNESCO is training journalists to cover elections objectively.
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 Prize to an imprisoned Iranian journalist, Ahmad Zeidabadi.
UNESCO is the only UN Agency with a mandate to promote Holocaust Education worldwide. Using funding provided by the United States and Israel, UNESCO is developing curricula to ensure that the Holocaust is never forgotten. Last February I led a historic visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp with more than 150 political and religious leaders, mostly from Arab and Muslim countries.  I still recall the words of Dr. Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia, who said: “We must teach our young people in mosques, churches and synagogues what happened here.”
With U.S. support we put science at the service of people.  UNESCO is leading a global effort to expand an ocean-based tsunami warning system.  In January, this system saved tens of thousands of lives when a tsunami hit Japan.  In the Middle East, UNESCO’s Sesame Programme enables world-class research and builds scientific and cultural bridges between neighbouring countries, including Israel and Egypt.
The U.S. Government recognizes the value of all this work.  To quote the State Department: “U.S. engagement with UNESCO serves a wide range of our national interests on education, science, culture and communications issues…we will work with Congress to ensure that U.S. interests and influence are preserved.”
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. Until that happens, it will be impossible for us to maintain our current level of activity. 
The announced withholding of U.S. dues owed for 2011 will immediately affect our ability to deliver programmes in critical areas: achieving universal education, supporting new democracies and fighting extremism.  So I call on the U.S. administration, Congress and the American people to find a way forward and continue support for UNESCO in these turbulent times.

Irina Bokova
2 November, 2011