Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Take Action Now To Assure The USA Funding for UNESCO

The United States Government has withheld its funding from UNESCO since last year. It is now time to take action to encourage the government to fund UNESCO again. Write your Senator and Congressman. Sign this petition.

The Problem

Two parts of U.S. law are of specific concern (US Code - Title 22: Foreign Relations and Intercourse / 22 USC 287 - Sec. 287e. Authorization of appropriations; payment of expenses) :
  • Pub. L. 101-246, title IV, Sec. 414, Feb. 16, 1990, 104 Stat. 70: "(a) Prohibition. - No funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or any other Act shall be available for the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states." (b) Transfer or Reprogramming. - Funds subject to the prohibition contained in subsection (a) which would be available for the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof (but for that prohibition) are authorized to remain available until expended and may be reprogrammed or transferred to any other account of the Department of State or the Agency for International Development to carry out the general purposes for which such funds were authorized." 
  • Pub. L. 103-236, title IV, Sec. 410, Apr. 30, 1994, 108 Stat. 454: "The United States shall not make any voluntary or assessed contribution - "(1) to any affiliated organization of the United Nations which grants full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood, or "(2) to the United Nations, if the United Nations grants full membership as a state in the United Nations to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood, during any period in which such membership is effective."
The General Conference of UNESCO last year admitted Palestine to membership. The United States Government immediately began to withhold payments of assessed and voluntary contributions to the Organization. UNESCO's rules state that the voting privileges of a member state will be revoked if it does not pay its assessed contributions for two years. The General Conference next year will approve the program and budget for UNESCO for the following two years and elect the Director General for the next four years.

The Remedy

The law should be revised to permit the President to waive these provisions if he decides it is in the interests of the United States to do so.

Why the Law Should Be Changed

There are a number of reasons that the law should be changed:
  1. It no longer achieves its original purpose. These provisions were included in the Foreign Relations Authorizations to prevent Palestine from being admitted to membership in United Nations organizations. Last year, in full knowledge of the law, the UNESCO General Conference admitted Palestine. Palestine has announced that it will apply for membership in other UN organizations and experts predict that the applications will be approved.
  2. The provisions as they stand are outdated. They became law in 1990 and 1994. At the time the Soviet Union had broken up, and the United States was exceptionally powerful in world affairs. The world has changed. Other countries and coalitions are more influential in United Nations venues. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is two decades older and views about its possible solutions have changed.
  3. The effects of the provisions may become profoundly contrary to U.S. national interests. If for example the United States were forced to withhold funding from the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, or the World Health Organization by these provisions, especially at times of national security crisis, the national interest could suffer significant damage -- far more than would occur due to admission of Palestine as one of hundreds of members of such an organization.
  4. The provisions are unclear as written. What is the difference in meaning between "the same standing as member states" and "full membership as a state". Does granting of Permanent Observer Status to a state trigger the provision? (Palestine has applied for Permanent Observer status to the United Nations. Indeed, Palestine has been granted a standing invitation to participate as observer in the sessions and the work of the General Assembly and is maintaining permanent offices at Headquarters.)
  5. The interpretation of "the full attributes of statehood" is also subject to uncertainty. (Belarus was admitted to membership in UNESCO in 1954 although at that time it was a constituent republic of the USSR. The United States Government at the time is reported to have argued that if the constituent republics of the USSR were to be admitted as member states, then the states of the USA ought also to be admitted individually.) And perhaps most importantly
  6. The provisions may take the decision on participation in an organization out of the hands of the U.S. government. Not only is it possible for a coalition of foreign nations to elect Palestine to membership in another UN organization, but it might be possible for a single state to make that case that a current member state of an international organization has characteristics that trigger the provisions.
The waiver would of course not delete the power of the Congress to delete funding of any UN family organization from appropriations bills. It would provide the possibility of the U.S. government responding more rapidly to events within the UN system than could the Congress in revision of legislation.

Why the Law Should Be Changes Now

The Administration believes that UNESCO's programs promote U.S. values and interests, and that it is in the national interest to contribute to UNESCO. (So do I.) If the United States does not pay its assessed contributions to UNESCO before the General Conference in October 2013, then it will not be able to vote at that General Conference. Perhaps more important, the voice of the United States will be less influential in UNESCO forums. UNESCO is the main United Nations defending important American values such as Freedom of the Press, equality of educational opportunities for girls, and education that promotes peace and opposes racism. Unfortunately, not all other nations share these values and it is important that the U.S. has a strong voice at UNESCO to defend those values.

Perhaps more important, now that the provision has failed in one venue, it will soon be tested in others and may also fail in them. The President should now have the power to act quickly in the national interest in such circumstances.

The Process to Change the Law

There will probably not be a specific vote of the Congress on the proposed amendment. Rather it will be included in a larger bill to appropriate funds,that will probably be approved before March, 2013. Apparently the administration informs the Congress before such bills are voted that even if approved in the Congress, the President will not sign them into law unless they include certain provisions. If the waiver authority is included in the list of required provisions, lacking strong opposition in the Congress, the waiver will probably be incorporated into the bill.

What to do now

I would suggest that you use your social media to tell your friends to support this amendment to the law.

Contact your Representative in the House of Representatives and your Senator and explain your support for this amendment. If you can, explain why UNESCO is important in your state and in your district. Is there a world heritage site there, a geopark, or a bioreserve that benefits from UNESCO networking. If you live in an area at risk of earthquakes or tsumanis, explain why UNESCO's geology and tsumami warning systems matter to your community. If you live in a place in which there are water shortages or subsidence due to depletion of aquifers, explain why UNESCO's hydrology program is important to your community.

Alternatively, if you feel deeply about girls education, explain why UNESCO's program in that field is important to you. If you feel that it is important that people around the world know about the Holocaust, explain why UNESCO's Holocaust education program is critically important. If you are concerned with the loss of biodiversity, or if you love to visit world heritage sites around the world, explain that you value these programs of UNESCO.

Finally sign the petition of the Better World Campaign telling the administration to support UNESCO. You can do so by clicking here!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Rutgers' International Institute for Peace: a UNESCO Category II Institute

The International Institute for Peace at Rutgers University (IIP) was approved last year to become the second UNESCO Category II institute in the United States.

The IIP was co-founded in May 2011 by Forest Whitaker, Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation, and Aldo Civico, a Rutgers University anthropologist and expert in conflict resolution. The IIP’s activities are wide-ranging: it will offer graduate-level degrees in Conflict Resolution and Peace Studies, promote research on cutting-edge issues relating to peace-building, and participate in real-life mediations of communities in conflict. Further, the IIP brings a unique expertise in addressing the violent conflicts that take place in cities, particularly among youth and gangs. Harnessing the talents and experience of filmmaker Forest Whitaker, the Institute will also seek to document conflict all over the world, providing people with an outlet to share their own stories of conflict and peace. The resulting documentaries shall raise awareness and, hopefully, instigate change.

From the signing ceremony in Paris.
Forest Whitaker, Ambassador David Killion, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova and  Aldo Civico

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Human Rights Day 2012

The award ceremony of the 2012 UNESCO/Bilbao Prize will be held at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on Monday 10 December – Human Rights Day 2012.  The UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights carries on the UNESCO Prize for Human Rights Education, which was created in 1978 to mark the 30th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Happy Birthday, UNESCO

Today, November 16, UNESCO marks its 67th birthday. In 1945, UNESCO was created in the firm belief of nations, forged by two World Wars in less than a generation, that political & economic agreements aren't enough to build lasting peace. Peace must be established on the basis of humanity’s moral & intellectual solidarity. Hence our motto: "Building peace in the minds of men & women"   http://ow.ly/fmjqr

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Nov 15 is World Philosophy Day

LEARN ABOUT THE DAY: http://ow.ly/fi7ZR


The safety of journalists: Why should you care?

More than 600 journalists and media workers have been killed in the last ten years. In other words, on average every week a journalist loses his or her life for bringing news and information to the public. To end violence against journalists and to combat impunity, the United Nations Chief Executives Board approved the first ever UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and  the Issue of Impunity, in April 2012, in a process spearheaded by UNESCO.
Now, in order to advance the plan and produce concrete strategies, a second UN Inter-Agency Meeting will take place in Vienna, Austria on 22 and 23 November, convened by UNESCO and co-hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). 23 November is the International Day against Impunity, declared by the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), a network of 90 international, regional and local organisations worldwide.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

UNESCO Director-General congratulates US President Barack Obama on re-election

The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, has sent America’s newly re-elected president a message congratulating him on his decisive victory and wishing him continued success in meeting the demands of the high office.
In her message, Ms Bokova recalls the achievements made possible by long-standing cooperation between the United States of America and UNESCO, since the Organization was founded in 1945. She also expresses her great pleasure that UNESCO shares the same values and global priorities as the United States, particularly in the areas of peace promotion, security and respect for human dignity worldwide, and her wish that the United States will remain fully engaged in the activities of the Organization.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

U.S. National Commission Meeting

The U.S. National Commission for UNESCO will host its Annual Meeting on Monday, November 26, from 10:00 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. E.S.T. The meeting will convene in room 309 of the George Washington University Marvin Center at 800 21st Street NW., Washington, DC.
The meeting will have a series of speakers offering information about UNESCO and the current state of United States engagement with the Organization. The meeting will also feature a public comment session, limited to approximately 15 minutes in total, with two minutes allowed per speaker.Show citation box
For more information or to arrange to participate in this meeting (including requests for reasonable accommodation), individuals should contact Francine Randolph, Office of UNESCO Affairs, Washington, DC 20037. Telephone (202) 663-0026; Fax (202) 663-0035.
The National Commission may be contacted via email at DCUNESCO@state.gov, or via phone at (202) 663-0026. Its Web site can be accessed at: http://www.state.gov/p/io/unesco/.
The meeting will be held just before the Americans for UNESCO Forum, which is to be held in a neighboring room in the same building.