In November 1945, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was created in London as a part of the United Nations (UN) system. Headquartered in Paris, France, and with bureau in cities including New York and Geneva, UNESCO functions as more than just a branch of the UN, or its cultural arm. Since the reintegration of Singapore in 2007, 193 countries are member states of UNESCO.
UNESCO has national branches in most countries, usually labeled as national commissions for UNESCO, resulting in designations such as the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, the Commission Nationale Ivoirienne (Ivory Coast) pour l’UNESCO, the Irish National Commission for UNESCO, and the Estonian National Commission for UNESCO. Each national commission has a director, not to be confused with a country’s ambassador at UNESCO’s offices in Paris.
The actions of UNESCO are countless and varied in terms of global policies: literacy campaigns in developing countries; museum studies; policy making; copublishing thousands of books, journals, and reports; organizing meetings and conferences; and promoting the protection of heritage, endangered languages, and cultures.
UNESCO’s programs and branches also focus on natural, social, and human sciences; peace studies; the promotion of human rights; ethics; communication studies; and environmental education. Every year, UNESCO approves the creation of research centers and research chairs. French, English, Castilian (Spanish), Russian, Arabic, and Chinese are the official languages of UNESCO; some publications and documents are translated in up to fifty languages.
The spirit of UNESCO is the strong belief that culture, education, cultural relations, tolerance, and dialogue are the most efficient ways to prevent conflicts and wars. As the 1946 UNESCO charter states, “Since wars begin in the minds of men; it is in the minds of men that peace must be constructed.” The Declaration of the Governments and the Constitution of UNESCO states:
——A peace based exclusively upon political and economic arrangements of governments would not be a peace which would secure the unanimous, lasting, and sincere support of the peoples of the world, and that peace must be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind.
The actions of UNESCO are usually diplomatic or symbolic, and therefore can sometimes be limited. Despite many calls for respect and tolerance, UNESCO could not avoid the Taliban regime destruction of the ancient Buddha statues of Bamiyan, from Afghanistan’s pre-Islamic era, in March 2001, even though this historical site was protected on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
UNESCO was under the spotlight following the publication of what is known as the MacBride report in 1980. The report proposed a new global policy for the global media, the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO). On December 28, 1983, the Reagan administration announced that the United States would withdraw from UNESCO, arguing that the organization was politicized, inefficient, and bureaucratic. The split also stemmed from conflicting perspectives regarding the concept of NWICO brought by the MacBride Commission in its report, Many Voices, One World: Towards a New, More Just, and More Efficient World Information and Communication Order. This report was discussed, but it was never adopted by the UNESCO Assembly. After an eighteen-year absence, the United States rejoined UNESCO in 2002; the United Kingdom followed the United States, leaving UNESCO from 1985 to 1997. Singapore did the same from 1985 to 2007.
For educators, academics, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), UNESCO is a web of valuable resources, networking, and contacts in international development, cultural relations, and global affairs.
- Osolnik, Bogdan. “The MacBride Report—25 Years Later.” Javnost—The Public 12, no. 3 (2005): 5–12.
- The MacBride Commission. Many Voices, One World: Towards a New, More Just, and More Efficient World Information and Communication Order. Lanham, Md. . Rowman and Littlefield, 2003.
- United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). www.unesco.org.
- “Afghan Cultural Heritage Crisis.” UNESCO Press. www .unesco.org/bpi/eng/unescopress/2001/afghanistan.shtml.
- William, Preston, Jr., Edward S. Herman, and Herbert I. Schiller. Hope and Folly: The United States and UNESCO, 1945–1985. Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press, 1989.
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