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Is UNESCO Reformed? By: Steven Bernstein
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, October 01, 2003

In a speech delivered to the United Nations General Assembly on September 12, 2002, President George W. Bush validated the existence of the UN, detailed Saddam Hussein's defiance of U.N. demands, and gave ample justification for the March 2003, invasion of Iraq by coalition forces. Most of the speech focused on Iraqi intransigence with UN weapons inspections and gross violations of human rights. But near the beginning of his remarks, Bush made an unusual statement: "As a symbol of our commitment to human dignity, the United States will return to UNESCO. This organization has been reformed and America will participate fully in its mission to advance human rights and tolerance and learning." UNESCO is not mentioned anywhere else in the speech. Why is Bush pushing the envelope now, concerning America rejoining UNESCO?

UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization –  effectively began on November 4, 1946, after UNESCO's Constitution was adopted by the London Conference in November, 1945, and ratified by 20 countries. It now has 189 member states. According to the UNESCO website, "The main objective of UNESCO is to contribute to peace and security in the world by promoting collaboration among nations through education, science, culture and communication in order to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law, and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion, by the Charter of the United Nations." Laudable goals, but UNESCO always systematically failed to meet them, instead becoming a shill for Communist bloc and “developing” socialist nations against the United States.

A member of UNESCO from the beginning, the United States left at the end of 1984, because UNESCO had adopted a blatantly anti-Western stance since the early 1970's. The organization displayed unrestrained hostility towards freedom of the press and free markets, and demonstrated a gross lack of accountability concerning budgetary spending. In 1974, UNESCO voted to exclude Israel from one of its regional working groups, because Israel supposedly altered "the historical features of Jerusalem" during archeological excavations and "brainwashed" Arabs in the occupied territories. After Congress suspended funding, UNESCO modified their sanctions and re-admitted Israel in 1976. Although Congress restored funding in 1977, the organization's anti-Western attitude and corrupt practices remained, undiminished.

In 1980, at their Belgrade General Conference, most of the Third World member nations called for the institution of a "new world information order," to counter the global news organizations’ purported pro-Western bias. Specifically, they wanted to license journalists and increase government control over media output. In 1990, the State Department expressed concern about UNESCO's support for a "New World Information and Communication Order," in order to regulate journalists. Under this rubric, freedom of the press and freedom of expression were subordinated to UNESCO's desire to control the flow of information in member countries. When Gregory Newell, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, and Jean Gerard, U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO, visited the agency to protest the its lack of budgetary discipline in June 1983, then-Director-General Amadou Mahtar M'Bow accused the U.S. of racism, even though the U.S. was then funding 25 percent of UNESCO's budget.

Between 1974 and 1984, UNESCO's biennial budget expanded from $165.1 million to $374.4 million. Until 1984, the organization had spent only $32,000 on the education of refugees. Always a den of international corruption, some UNESCO staffers obtained their positions through family connections. When M'Bow was Director-General, Serge Vieux was awarded the important position of Personnel Director, because he is a cousin of M'Bow's wife.

In 1987, M'Bow was replaced as Director-General by Federico Mayor Zaragoza, and according to some, the organization began to slowly rebuild its credibility. Mayor reportedly put an end to the "New World Information Order," and a January 1995 article in The New York Times indicated that since 1990, UNESCO has held annual conferences for journalists, stressing freedom of the press and independence in journalism. However, another article in The New York Times, dated April 17, 1990, indicated that a State Department Report, also issued in April 1990, stated that UNESCO had given special status to the Palestine Liberation Organization "exceeding that of any member state." The same report also indicated that Mayor had appointed a high-level "coordinator for cooperation with Palestine." During a trip to Israel, Mayor had "refused an offer to meet with the Israeli government," but instead "apologized" to Arab countries for making the trip in the first place. This report also indicated that the "New World Information Order" was "alive and well" in 1990.

However, in late 1999, Koichiro Matsuura, former Japanese Ambassador to France, was elected Director-General of UNESCO. Matsuura pledged radical reforms, vowing to give priority to basic education and trim non-essential staff. Thus far, Matsuura seems to have been successful. Jeane Kirkpatrick, former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, stated that Matsuura has made "quite a lot of progress on eliminating corruption and theft.” And he has trimmed about 300 employees from the staff of the Agency's New York Headquarters. But do these achievements, while necessary, indicate that the United States should rejoin UNESCO? Matsuura has also admitted that UNESCO's programs duplicate the efforts of many international organizations.

In the realm of international affairs, UNESCO hardly seems to be any more pro-Western, particularly if one looks at the organization's longstanding antipathy for Israel. Matsuura protested when Taliban soldiers wielding pickaxes destroyed two giant statues of Buddha in Afghanistan, even though UNESCO was powerless to halt the destruction. However, UNESCO remained strangely silent when, in October, 2000, a Palestinian mob destroyed Joseph's Tomb, an important Jewish religious site in Nablus, and built a mosque on the site. For an organization that is charged with safeguarding cultural heritage, UNESCO has done a remarkably poor job, and the organization's shrill and selective verbal assault on Israel has remained, unabated.

On April 11, 2002, the World Heritage Committee condemned Israel for "the destruction and damage caused to the cultural heritage in the Palestinian territories as "a crime against the common cultural heritage of humanity"...in particular, the reported damage caused to the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus Christ and one of the most significant and historic sites on earth; the historic center of Nablus including its Mosques and the old city of Hebron." In a letter to Matsuura, Dr. Shimon Samuels, a director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, called this condemnation "the very depth of hypocrisy." Samuels pointed out the Palestinian decision to "occupy the Basilica of the Nativity to hold nuns and priests hostage,...Israeli soldiers have respected the sanctity of these sites at the cost of their own lives." Samuels also pointed out that Israel's Ambassador, Yitzhak Eldan, was denied the right to reply to this condemnation.The organization allegedly concerned with education and health seems remarkably unconcerned at the Arab world's depiction of Jews as subhumans and the violence it inspires.

UNESCO also takes a brazen attitude toward acquiring U.S. property for its own use. The World Heritage Convention, with the accompanying World Heritage Site List, is possibly the most important UNESCO function. UNESCO's General Conference adopted the World Heritage Convention in 1972, to protect important cultural and natural sites worldwide. The World Heritage Committee determines which properties make the Site List, and determines the proper level of international assistance for their protection.

Allowing American lands, such as National Parks, to be placed on the Site List, with accompanying Committee action if deemed necessary, has the potential of interfering with Congressional authority over these areas. Such action also has the potential for creating and fostering negative attitudes towards the U.S. government, and also bodes ill for private property owners whose land happens to be adjacent to a World Heritage Site.

In 1972, the Nixon Administration persuaded Congress to ratify U.S. obedience to the World Heritage Convention. In 1995, the U.S. government invited the World Heritage Committee to offer their opinion of a mining operation, two miles outside the boundary of Yellowstone National Park, which is on the World Heritage Site List. The Committee immediately toured the site, and without waiting for a Montana State environmental impact report, strongly condemned the mining operation. Residents of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho were outraged that a dispute over a local mining operation had inexplicably caused UNESCO intervention. The U.S. government could not answer angry queries from local residents, as to the reason that foreign officials had conducted an inspection in Montana. It instead denied that these foreign officials would determine U.S. policy, creating further suspicion among residents.

To make matters worse, UNESCO is now pushing its Man and the Biosphere Program, which advocates that large tracts of the United States be off limits to human habitation.

Thanksfully, conservatives have been working on a solution to this problem for years. On May 20, 1999, the American Land Sovereignty Protection Act (ALSPA) passed the U.S. House of Representatives. This bill would have prohibited the Secretary of the Interior from nominating any Federal Lands for inclusion on the World Heritage Site List unless "the Secretary publishes a finding that commercially viable uses of nominated lands and lands within ten miles of them will not be adversely affected by such inclusion." The Secretary must also tell Congress “the impact that the inclusion would have on the existing and future uses of such lands." However, the ALSPA did not pass the Senate in the 106th Congress, and during the 107th Congress, got only 35 co-sponsors in the House. (It never got out of Committee in the Senate.)

The swift and arbitrary nature of the WHC's condemnation of the mining operation in Montana reveals the contempt with which UNESCO officials regard private land ownership, and much about their proclivity to wield arbitrary power. Should the United States rejoin UNESCO? Should a distant international body, so long unaccountable, and which has systematically promulgated anti-Western thought, be given another shot at life?  Should an organization that seems eager to appropriate tracts of the U.S. heartland for its own use be given authority over American lands?The answer should be obvious.

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