Sunday, December 09, 2012

Human Rights Day 2012

On the occasion of the Human Rights Day 2012, UNESCO's Director-General Irina Bokova and the Mayor of the City of Bilbao Mr IƱaki Azkuna will award the UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu from South Africa. Read more!

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Take Action Now To Assure The USA Funding for UNESCO

This is an update on a recent post.

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. Last week, also in full knowledge of the law, the United Nations General Assembly recognized Palestine as a state by admitting is to Non-Member State Observer status. 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. Most other nations have recognized Palestine as a state.
  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 was just granted Non-Member State Permanent Observer status to the United Nations. Indeed, Palestine has long 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!

Sustainable Development in Coastal Regions and Small Islands

Flooded homes in Tuckerton, N.J., on Oct. 30 after Hurricane Sandy 

Hurricane Sandy recently provided a vivid demonstration of the vulnerability of U.S. coastal regions and islands to destruction and environmental degradation, as did Hurricane Katrina a few years ago. We recall that the United States has not only long coastlines with the Atlantic, Caribbean and Pacific, with many offshore islands, but also includes Hawaii and Puerto Rico. 

CSI is a global platform provided by UNESCO for environmentally sound, socially equitable, culturally respectful and economically viable development in coastal regions and small islands.

The CSI platform for intersectoral action was initiated in 1996. The following three complementary and mutually reinforcing approaches have been adopted:
  1. Field-based projects which provide a framework for collaborative action on the ground
  2. UNESCO Chairs and University Twinning (UNITWIN) arrangements, which support and enhance the field project activities through training, capacity building and awareness raising
  3. A multi-lingual, internet-based forum on 'Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development'
Half a dozen field projects continue to operate worldwide. Three university chairs in sustainable coastal development have been formally established. The internet-based discussion forum includes some 19,000 recipients from around the world representing a wide range of specializations and interests. The field projects, backed-up by the UNESCO chairs and twinning networks, have developed and tested wise practices applicable to sustainable development of small islands and coastal regions. These practices provide guidance as to what can wisely be done under the prevailing circumstances.

Via the CSI platform, wise coastal practices for sustainable human development are exchanged, the voices of small islands amplified, indigenous knowledge mobilised for equitable resource governance, and youth given a say.

A USGS and UNESCO Joint Publication

Development of a new irrigation well in west-central Florida triggered
hundreds of sinkholes over a 20-acre area. The sinkholes ranged
in size from less than 1 foot to more than 150 feet in diameter.
Land subsidence due to the depletion of groundwater is a problem in many parts of the United States. The subsidence, when it occurs, breaks water mains and sewer lines, disrupts underground telephone cables, and collapses roads. It can even endanger buildings. The problem costs many millions of dollars per year, straining the budgets of many municipalities.

The Guidebook was originally Published in 1984 by Unesco as one of the contributions to the International Hydrological Program. Although the IHP is a scientific and educational program, Unesco has been aware of the need to direct its activities toward the practical solutions of the world's water resources problems. The Guidebook was intended as one of the tools to help provide for a multidisciplinary approach to the assessment, planning, and rational management of water resources.

Written in 1984, the Guidebook provides an overview of case studies illustrating the major occurrences of land subsidence due to ground-water withdrawal throughout the world at the time of its publication. But probably it's most enduring contributions are the chapters on field measurement of deformation and the mechanics of land subsidence. These chapters provide a basic understanding of subsidence that is valuable for both resource managers and scientists.

The Guidebook has enjoyed enduring demand. It has long since been out of print, but now is available in electronic form. Click here to download, an 11 MB compressed file in Winzip format. Interested in only a part of the document? Check out the PDF files available here.

UNESCO Associated Libraries in the USA

U.S. libraries advancing programs that cut across at least three of UNESCO’s five sectors (education, natural science, social science, culture, and communication/information) may apply for recognition as a UNESCO Associated Library by the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO.

Recognition through the UNESCO Associated Library program conveys to visitors and patrons that your library has a commitment to international engagement through communication, culture, education, and science. Libraries that receive this distinction may publicize their status as a UNESCO Associated Library and are eligible to display a special certificate issued by the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO. Moreover, becoming a UNESCO Associated Library enables an institution to tap into the network of UNESCO Associated Libraries in the U.S. and around the globe.

Any U.S. Library interested in recognition as a UNESCO Associated Library should complete and submit an application, which can be found here.

For an informational brochure, click here.

Statement by U.S. Ambassador David Killion to the 190th Executive Board

From the statement as delivered on October 8, 2012:
The United States remains a full and active members of the Organization.  President Obama is committed, and I am committed, to working with the U.S. Congress to seek a solution that would resolve the U.S. funding situation at UNESCO and restore our ability to pay our dues. 
 Read the full statement.