UNESCO appeals to US to unfreeze 60m. in funds

Cuts “will weaken UNESCO’s effectiveness and undermine its ability to build free and open societies,” agency's director-general says.

36th session of UNESCO (photo credit: Reuters)
36th session of UNESCO
(photo credit: Reuters)
The UN’s cultural body on Wednesday appealed to the US to rescind its decision to freeze its funding of the organization.
“I call on the US administration, Congress and the American people to find a way forward and continue support for UNESCO in these turbulent times,” said Irina Bokova, director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
On Monday, the US announced that it had frozen a $60 million payment due to UNESCO for its 2011 budget.
It was mandated to do so by an American law that forbids the US to finance UN-related organizations that recognize a unilaterally declared Palestinian state without a peace agreement. On Monday, UNESCO voted to admit Palestine as it 195th member.
The US has already paid $11.8m. to UNESCO this year. Its $71.8m. contribution makes up 22 percent of the Paris-based organization’s budget.
The Bulgarian Bokova said that the loss of the money “will immediately affect our ability to deliver programs in critical areas: achieving universal education, supporting new democracies and fighting extremism.”
It “will weaken UNESCO’s effectiveness and undermine its ability to build free and open societies,” she said.
“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,” Bokova said.
She listed UNESCO’s programs including developing a free press in Iraq, Tunisia and Egypt. In Afghanistan it teaches thousands of police officers to read and write.
It is the only UN agency with a mandate to promote Holocaust Education worldwide, Bokova said.
“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.”
UNESCO is leading a global effort to expand an ocean-based tsunami warning system, she said.
“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,” she said.
Ottawa, which has already provided UNESCO with $1.3m. Canadian dollars, said it also planned to freeze funding.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said on Tuesday night, “Unilateral Palestinian efforts to seek member- or observer-state status in the UN, UNESCO and other international organizations without a negotiated peace agreement with Israel are ultimately unhelpful. We are currently reviewing our options in response to this unilateral action.
“Canada stood and voted against the Palestinian request for membership in UNESCO.
“Under no circumstances will Canada be contributing more money to cover any budgetary shortfall that may result from this decision.
Those countries that voted in favor of the Palestinian proposal ought to have known the potential financial implications this would have.
“Canada has also decided that we are currently not considering any new funding proposals for UNESCO programs,” Baird said.