US, Israel lose Unesco voting right

2013-11-08 22:29
Shutterstock

Shutterstock

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Paris - American influence in culture, science and education around the world took a high-profile blow Friday after the US automatically lost voting rights at Unesco, after missing a crucial deadline to repay its debt to the world's cultural agency.

The US hasn't paid its dues to the Paris-based UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in protest over the decision by world governments to make Palestine a Unesco member in 2011. Israel suspended its dues at the same time and also lost voting rights on Friday.

Under Unesco rules, the US had until Friday morning to resume funding or explain itself, or it automatically loses its vote. A Unesco official, who was not authorised to speak publicly about the issue, said nothing was received from either the US or Israel.

The suspension of US contributions, which account for $80m a year – 22% of Unesco's overall budget - brought the agency to the brink of a financial crisis and forced it to cut or scale back American-led initiatives such as Holocaust education and tsunami research over the past two years.

It has worried many in Washington that the US is on track to becoming a toothless Unesco member with a weakened voice in international programs fighting extremism through education, and promoting gender equality and press freedoms.

Some fear that a weaker US presence will lead to growing anti-Israeli sentiment within Unesco, where Arab-led criticism of Israel for territorial reasons has long been an issue.

"We won't be able to have the same clout," said Phyllis Magrab, the Washington-based US National Commissioner for Unesco. "In effect, we [now won't] have a full tool box. We're missing our hammer."

The Unesco tension has prompted new criticism of US laws that force an automatic funding cut-off for any UN agency with Palestine as a member. The official list of countries that lose their votes was expected to be read aloud on Saturday before the entire Unesco general conference.

Israel's ambassador to Unesco, Nimrod Barkan, told The Associated Press that his country supported the Unites States' decision, "objecting to the politicisation of Unesco, or any international organisation, with the accession of a non-existing country like Palestine."

Anti-extremist

Unesco may be best known for its programme to protect the cultures of the world via its Heritage sites, which include the Statue of Liberty and Mali's Timbuktu.

But its core mission, as conceived by the US, a co-founder of the agency in 1946, was to be an anti-extremist organization. In today's world, it tackles foreign policy issues such as access to clean water, teaches girls to read, works to eradicate poverty, promotes freedom of expression and gives people creative thinking skills to resist violent extremism.

Among Unesco programs already slashed over funding shortages is one in Iraq that was intended to help restore water facilities. In danger was a Holocaust and genocide awareness program in Africa to teach about non-violence, non-discrimination and ethnic tolerance, using the example of the mass killing of Jews during World War II.

This loss is a particular blow to the US, since Holocaust awareness was one of the areas the country aggressively promoted in the agency's agenda when it rejoined in 2002 after an 18-year hiatus, during which the US had withdrawn from the organisation over differences in vision.

The concern over Unesco is resonating in the US Congress.

"The United States must not voluntarily forfeit its leadership in the world community," Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, told The Associated Press in an email.

With efforts by President Barack Obama to get the money restored having failed or stalled, Ellison plans to introduce legislation in Congress to overturn what he calls the "antiquated" laws that automatically halted the flow of funds to the agency from November 2011.

The Obama administration has proposed language to amend the legislation, but it remains on the table amid recent US budget setbacks.

For some it's a question of sooner rather than later, with the US racking up arrears to Unesco of some $220 000 a day, which it will have to pay back if it ever wants to fill the empty chair and get back the vote.

To its knees

"Paying off three years is manageable, but it indeed becomes much more difficult if you allow many years to pass and the bill gets larger and larger and larger," said Esther Brimmer, former US assistant secretary of state for international organizations.

The Palestinian Ambassador to Unesco, Elias Sanbar, said other countries are beginning to make up for the US shortfall.

"Is this in the interest of the US, to be replaced?" he asked.

Unesco Director-General Irina Bokova lamented the changes that are not only seeing America silenced within her organization but also bringing Unesco financially to its knees.

"I regret to say that I'm seeing, in these last two years ... a declining American influence and American involvement," Bokova told The Associated Press.

"I can't imagine how we could disengage with the United States at Unesco. We are so intertwined with our message. What I regret is that this decision became so divisive and triggered this suspension of the funding," she added.

Bokova said she accepts political reality and would find ways for Unesco to continue its work, despite a 2014 budget that's down by an estimated $150m.

Some fear this debacle is just the tip of the iceberg, and worry about more serious consequences, if Palestine joins other agencies such as the World Health Organisation.

 

Read more on:    unesco  |  us  |  israel

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
8 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.