The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

views updated



"Since wars begin in the minds of men," the preamble to the UNESCO constitution states, "it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed." As also stated in the preamble, "the great and terrible war which has now ended was a war made possible by the denial of the democratic principles of the dignity, equality and mutual respect of men and by the propagation, in their place, through ignorance and prejudice, of the doctrine of the inequality of men and races." World War II was too recent of an event when UNESCO was created for its founders to forget that fact. UNESCO's purpose as a member of the UN family of organizations is "to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture 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."


Occasional attempts at international cooperation in educational, scientific, and cultural matters were made before World War I, but no machinery existed to promote these efforts on a worldwide scale. Even the League of Nations Covenant, when it was drawn up after the war, failed to mention international cooperation in these matters. However, thanks in great part to the efforts of the Belgian delegate Henri La Fontaine, a League of Nations Committee on Intellectual Cooperation was formed. Composed of 12 eminent persons, the committee met for the first time in the summer of 1922 under the chairmanship of the French philosopher Henri Bergson. Among those who served on the committee were Marie Curie, Gilbert Murray, and Albert Einstein. The intellectual atmosphere that prevailed in the committee was a loft y one, but at the same time the committee established precedents in practical matters that have proved useful to UNESCO. Thus, the 40-odd national committees on intellectual cooperation whose creation this committee promoted were a precedent for the national commissions now operating in 191 countries and associate members (as of March 2005) to further the work of UNESCO. The International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation, established with the aid of the French government and located in Paris, began work early in 1926 and provided a permanent secretariat for the committee.

The League was thus provided with a technical body to promote international activity and was active in many fields, especially those of interest to scholars, professionals, learned societies, librarians, and the like. Numerous conferences and symposia were held under the auspices of the International Institute in Paris. Among the topics taken up by these conferences as the world situation became more menacing were the psychological causes of war and methods of promoting peaceful change as a substitute for war.

More intensive international cooperation in the field of educational problems began during World War II itself. A Conference of Allied Ministers of Education was convened in London in November 1942 to consider how the devastated educational systems of the countries under Nazi occupation could be restored after the war. The first meeting of the conference was attended by representatives of eight governments in exile and the French National Committee of Liberation. The conference met at frequent intervals throughout the war, with the participation of a growing number of representatives of other allied governments. The United States delegation to the April 1944 meeting of the conference included J. William Fulbright, then congressman and later senator from Arkansas, and the poet Archibald MacLeish, at that time Librarian of Congress, who was later to participate in the draft ing of UNESCO's constitution.

It was decided at San Francisco that one of the objectives of the UN should be to promote international cultural and educational cooperation. Addressing the closing plenary session, President Truman declared: "We must set up an effective agency for constant and thorough interchange of thoughts and ideas, for there lies the road to a better and more tolerant understanding among nations and among peoples."

The conference creating UNESCO was convened by the United Kingdom and France in London in November 1945. It was decided that the new organization should deal not only with the transmission of existing knowledge but also with the pursuit of new knowledge. Hence, the encouragement of natural and social sciences through international cooperation was one of the principal tasks assigned UNESCO. UNESCO's constitution was adopted by the London conference after only two weeks of discussion and went into effect on 4 November 1946, when 20 states had deposited instruments of acceptance with the United Kingdom government.


UNESCO's functions, as prescribed in its 1945 constitution, are as follows:

  • "to collaborate in the work of advancing the mutual knowledge and understanding of peoples through all means of mass communication;
  • to give fresh impulse to popular education and to the spread of culture by collaborating with members, at their request, in the development of educational activities; by instituting collaboration among the nations to advance the ideal of equality of educational opportunities without regard to race, sex, or any distinctions, economic or social; and by suggesting educational methods best suited to prepare the children of the world for the responsibilities of freedom; and
  • to maintain, increase, and diffuse knowledge by ensuring the conservation and protection of the world's heritage of books, works of art, and monuments of history and science; by encouraging cooperation among the nations in all branches of intellectual activity, including the international exchange of persons active in the fields of education, science, and culture and the exchange of publications, objects of artistic and scientific interest, and other materials of information; and by initiating methods of international cooperation calculated to give the people of all countries access to the printed and published materials produced by any of them."

Since UNESCO's constitution specifically emphasizes the need to preserve "the independence, integrity and fruitful diversity of the cultures and educational systems" of the member states, the organization cannot impose any particular standard either on all its members or on any of them, and it is "prohibited from intervening in matters within their domestic jurisdiction."


Any UN member may join UNESCO. Other states may be admitted to UNESCO membership upon the recommendation of the organization's Executive Board and the approval of its General Conference by a two-thirds majority. Austria, Hungary, and Japan joined UNESCO years before entering the UN.

Under a United Kingdom-proposed amendment to the constitution adopted in 1951, territories or groups of territories not responsible for their international relations can be admitted as associate members upon application of member states or other authorities responsible for their international relations. Associate members do not have the right to vote.

A state may withdraw from UNESCO by notifying the organization's director-general of its intention to do so; the withdrawal takes effect as of the end of the respective calendar year. South Africa withdrew in December 1956 but rejoined in December 1994. Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland suspended their participation in UNESCO activities in 1952 but returned as active participants in 1954. Portugal withdrew in 1972 but returned in 1974. In November 1974, a vote dominated by Arab and Communist delegations excluded Israel from UNESCO's European regional group and withheld aid from it on the ground that it persists "in altering the historic features" of Jerusalem during excavationsan allegation not sustained by UNESCO's archaeological expert.

At the end of 1984, the United States withdrew from UNESCO, stating that "trends in the policy, ideological emphasis, budget, and management of UNESCO were detracting from the organization's effectiveness." One year later, the United Kingdom and Singapore withdrew (the United Kingdom rejoined in 1997). In February 1994, the New York Times reported that the United States State Department had recommended that the United States rejoin UNESCO, which had cut its staff by nearly 1,800 people and changed its stand on the controversial New World Information and Communications Order (NWICO). Until its departure, the United States had been responsible for 25% of UNESCO's budget. The United States rejoined UNESCO in 2003.

As of March 2005, UNESCO had 191 members and 6 associate members.


UNESCO is an autonomous organization affiliated with the UN through a relationship agreement signed in 1946. Its three principal organs are the General Conference, the Executive Board, and the secretariat, headed by a director-general.

General Conference

All UNESCO members have the right to be represented in the General Conference, which determines UNESCO's policies and decides on its major undertakings. Each member state has one vote in the conference but may be represented by five delegates. The constitution of UNESCO requires that member governments are to consult with national educational, scientific, and cultural bodies before selecting these delegates; in countries where UNESCO commissions have been established, these too are to be consulted.

From 1946 through 1952, the General Conference met every year. Since then it has met generally every two years. As a rule, the conference takes place in Paris, but it has also met in Mexico City, Beirut, Florence, Montevideo, New Delhi, Nairobi, Belgrade, and Sofia.

Decisions of the General Conference are made by a simple majority vote, except for certain constitutionally specified matters that require a two-thirds majority, such as amending the UNESCO constitution or adopting an international convention. Member nations are not automatically bound by conventions adopted by the General Conference, but the UNESCO constitution requires them to submit such conventions to their appropriate national authority for ratification within one year. The same applies to recommendations, which the General Conference is empowered to adopt by simple majority vote.

Executive Board

Elected by the General Conference, the Executive Board is one of three constitutional organs of UNESCO and consists of 58 member states serving a four-year term. It supervises the execution of UNESCO's program. It meets at least twice a year. Before the General Conference convenes, the Executive Board reviews the budget estimates and work program for the following two-year period, as prepared by the director-general. It submits these with its recommendations to the General Conference and prepares the agenda for the conference.

Originally, the UNESCO constitution provided that "although the members of the Executive Board are representatives of their respective governments, they shall exercise the powers delegated to them by the General Conference on behalf of the Conference as a whole." Until 1993, the members of the board were not member states, but personalities designated by name. UNESCO's constitution only designated that the General Conference should "endeavor to include persons competent in the arts, the humanities, the sciences, education and the diffusion of ideas." In 1993, the General Conference changed this criteria. Since that time, the member states of the Executive Board are requested to appoint a person qualified in one or more of the fields of competence of UNESCO and with the necessary experience and capacity to fulfill the administrative and executive duties of the board. The General Conference, in electing member states to the Executive Board, must also take into account the diversity of cultures and balanced geographical distribution.

Following a constitutional amendment adopted by the General Conference in 1972, board members are elected for four years and are not immediately eligible for a second term. At each session, the General Conference elects members to succeed those whose terms end with that session. A system of electoral groups of member states, governing only elections to the Executive Board, was established in 1968.

Director-General and Secretariat

The secretariat carries out UNESCO's programs. It is headed by a director-general, nominated by the Executive Board and elected by the General Conference. The staff members are appointed by the director-general. Julian Huxley of the United Kingdom was UNESCO's first director-general. Federico Mayor Zaragoza of Spain was elected director-general in November 1987, succeeding Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow of Senegal, who had held the post since 1974. At the 1993 General Conference, Mr. Mayor was elected for a second six-year term. Koichiro Matsuura of Japan was appointed Director-General for a six-year term at the General Conference on 12 November 1999, and reelected on 12 October 2005 for a four-year term.


UNESCO's first headquarters were in the Hotel Majestic, in Paris, a building which, ironically, had served as the headquarters for the German army during its occupation of France. In 1958, the organization's headquarters were transferred to a 3-hectare (7.5-acre) site, located at 7 place de Fontenoy, donated to UNESCO by the government of France.

UNESCO headquarters originally consisted of a conference building, a secretariat building, and a building for the permanent delegations assigned to UNESCO. In 1965, a new building constructed around underground patios was added, and in 1970 and 1977, two supplementary buildings. The buildings were designed and approved by several leading architects. Works by contemporary artists are an integral part of the headquarters.

Field Offices

UNESCO has been criticized by the United States since the 1980s for the concentration of its staff at its headquarters office in Paris, rather than in the field. A 1992 report by the US State Department said that 73% of UNESCO's total staff of 2,697 persons were located in Paris. The same report also conceded that, despite this fact, 44% of the organization's regular and extra-budgetary resources were spent in the field. This disparity, however, may simply reflect the vastly different nature of UNESCO's mandate, as opposed to the mandate of technically-oriented specialized agencies. In 2005, UNESCO had a staff of 2,160, of which 680 worked in 58 field offices. The percentage of staff working in the field had not markedly changed since 1980, though the number of field offices had increased until a decentralization plan was adopted in the mid-2000s.

In Africa, UNESCO offices are located in Bujumbura, Burundi; Yaounde, Cameroon; Brazzaville, Congo; Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Libreville, Gabon; Accra, Ghana; Nairobi, Kenya; Bamako, Mali; Maputo, Mozambique; Windhoek, Namibia; Abuja, Nigeria; Kigali, Rwanda; Dakar, Senegal; Dar es Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania; and Harare, Zimbabwe.

In the Arab world, UNESCO offices are located in Cairo, Egypt; Amman, Jordan; Beirut, Lebanon; Rabat, Morocco; Ramallah, West Bank (Palestine); and Doha, Qatar.

In Asia and the Pacific, UNESCO offices are located in Kabul, Afghanistan; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Beijing, China; New Delhi, India; Jakarta, Indonesia; Tehran, Iran; Almaty, Kazakhstan; Kathmandu, Nepal; Islamabad, Pakistan; Apia, Samoa; Bangkok, Thailand; Tashkent, Uzbekistan; and Hanoi, Vietnam.

In Europe and North America, UNESCO offices are located in Venice, Italy; Bucharest, Romania; Moscow, Russian Federation; Geneva, Switzerland; and New York, United States.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, UNESCO offices are located in Brasilia, Brazil; Santiago, Chile; San Jose, Costa Rica; Havana, Cuba; Quito, Ecuador; Guatemala City, Guatemala; Portau-Prince, Haiti; Kingston, Jamaica; Mexico City, Mexico; Lima, Peru; and Montevideo, Uruguay.

National Commissions for UNESCO

The UNESCO constitution requests every member state to associate "its principal bodies interested in educational, scientific, and cultural matters with the work of the Organization, preferably by the formation of a National Commission." By 2005, 191 member states had established such broadly representative national commissions to collaborate with UNESCO in attaining its objectives. These commissions are not official UNESCO organs, but they provide a vital link between UNESCO and the public at large. They advise their governments and the delegations that attend the UNESCO General Conference on pertinent matters and serve as liaison agencies and information outlets.

The various national commissions vary greatly in size and composition. often the country's minister of education is the commission's president, and its members may include high government officials, leaders in the fields of education, science, and the arts, and representatives of professional organizations. Through meetings, publications, broadcasts, contests, and exhibitions, the commissions stimulate public interest in specific UNESCO projects. National UNESCO commissions of several countries often meet for regional conferences. National commissions are frequently given contracts to translate UNESCO publications and to handle printing and distribution of these translations.

Cooperation with Nongovernmental Organizations

The constitution of UNESCO states that "a peace based exclusively upon the political and economic arrangements of governments would not be a peace which could secure the unanimous, lasting and sincere support of the peoples of the world" and that "peace must therefore be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind."

In order to attain that objective, the founders of UNESCO sought ways of associating the peoples of the world as closely as possible in the preparation and implementation of the organization's aims and programs. Thus, from its inception, UNESCO has sought the collaboration of international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The NGOs with which UNESCO cooperates have activities and interests paralleling those of the organization, ranging from specialized or scholarly organizations (of teachers, scientific researchers, philosophers, sociologists, journalists, writers, and legal experts) to mass organizations (trade unions, cooperatives, women's associations, and youth movements) and denominational organizations.

UNESCO consults and cooperates with NGOs so as to receive the broadest possible assistance from them in the preparation and implementation of its programs, thus strengthening international cooperation in the fields of education, science, and culture.


For the biennium 200607, the General Conference approved a regular budget of us$610,000,000. The organization has increased financing for its programs while reducing administrative costs. us$107,802,100 was for Education; us$55,994,500 was for Natural Sciences; us$30,838,000 was for Social and Human Sciences; us$50,574,600 was for Culture; us$32,950,400 was for Communication and Information; us$38,660,100 was for General Policy and Direction; and us$177,681,900 was for program execution and administration.

UNESCO's budget is financed through contributions assessed against member states on a sliding scale. For the biennium 200203, these assessments ranged from a minimum of 0.01% of the total amount to 25%. UNESCO receives funds from other specialized agencies of the UN systemmainly UNDP, UNFPA, UNEP and the World Bankand regional banks for operational assistance to member states.


UNESCO's work is carried out principally in the fields of education, the natural sciences, the social and human sciences, culture, and communication.

At the 27th session of the General Conference (1993), a broad consensus emerged on the need to concentrate efforts on two of the objectives common to the United Nations system as a wholethe consolidation of peace and the promotion of sustainable human development. The General Conference also underlined the importance of UNESCO's role in promoting international intellectual cooperation, that is, acting as an international "think tank."

The Organization's Constitution outlines UNESCO's fundamental mission of promoting access to, and the transfer and sharing of knowledge. UNESCO's continued role of offering guidance, advice, and assessment when needed calls for strengthening activities in the following areas: anticipating and preparing innovative strategies, gathering and circulating reliable information on the present situation and probable trends in the Organization's fields of competence; and encouraging political leaders at the highest level to make firm commitments.

UNESCO's recent actions have been largely determined by commitments made at the major intergovernmental conferences it has recently convenedsolely or jointly with other UN agenciesor in which it has participated, in particular the World Conference on Education for All, held in Jomtien, Thailand, in March 1990, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992, the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, China, in September 1995, and the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in August and September 2002.

The increasingly global nature and growing complexity of the problems in today's world call for a multidisciplinary or transdisciplinary approach in many of UNESCO's activities. A good example is the interdisciplinary project "Environment and Population Education and Information for Human Development," conceived following the Rio Conference and aimed at the adoption of an integrated approach in order to achieve a development that is people-centered, equitable, and sustainable.

UNESCO's transdisciplinary Action Programme to Promote a Culture of Peace was created in 1993 to initiate activities in favor of the consolidation of peace following conflict. This involves reconstituting social infrastructures, fostering national reconciliation, reintegrating displaced persons, constructing a basis for a democratic citizenship, helping to create endogenous capabilities and ensuring the broadest possible involvement of the population in development efforts.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, UNESCO has been at the forefront of UN and international action in Central and Eastern Europe. The 26th Session of the General Conference (1991) called for UNESCO "to establish intersectoral coordination to support the introduction of democratic reforms" and "to establish close cooperation for carrying out this activity with international intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, funds and other bodies" in support of Central and eastern Europe and in the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union. It was decided that the many existing activities in the region could be better focused if they were brought together under a single program, and the Programme for Central and Eastern European Development (PROCEED) was created.

Finally, the Organization's action in recent years has been focused on satisfying the needs of three priority target groupsthe least developed countries, the UNESCO member states of Africa, and women.

A. Education

UNESCO's largest sectoral activity, education, is the field for constant but changing endeavor. From originally helping to reconstruct educational systems in war-torn Europe and carrying out isolated, modest projects elsewhere, UNESCO has progressed to large-scale undertakings, such as literacy campaigns, rural development, science teaching, educational planning and administration, and teacher training.

UNESCO's major education activities have focused on basic education, the renewal of educational systems and educational advancement and policy.

In activities following up the 1990 World Conference on Education for All, UNESCO has assisted member states in diagnosing basic learning needs, setting national education-for-all (EFA) objectives, and devising effective strategies to move towards EFA.

In cooperation with UNFPA, UNESCO organized the International Congress on Population Education and Development (Istanbul, April 1993) which adopted the Istanbul Declaration and Action Framework for Population Education on the Eve of the Twenty-first Century.

Emergency assistance programs and reconstruction operations in the field of education were carried out in such countries as Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Croatia, Iraq, Lebanon, Mozambique, Slovenia, and Somalia. Following the international meeting on "Peace, the day after," held in Granada, Spain in December 1993, activities aimed at the rebuilding of Palestinian educational and cultural institutions were initiated.

The Scheme of Humanitarian Assistance for Refugee Education (SHARE) (199396) responded specifically to the needs of refugee children. The program went beyond the urgent but short-term goal of providing shelter, food, and medicines, to develop a coherent policy of refugee education in cooperation with local and national authorities. After initial experiences in Cambodia, Somalia, and Afghanistan, SHARE activities were also carried out in Slovenia and Croatia.

UNESCO also promotes studies and teaching in the fields of drugs, population, and the environment. In cooperation with WHO, the Organization has elaborated a joint prototype curriculum for AIDS education in schools and disseminated documents and guidelines to support AIDS education programs in member states.

The UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs Programme was launched in 1991 to strengthen cooperation between universities through twinning arrangements and promote the development of inter-university networks in order to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and improve teacher training. As of May 2006, there were 24 UNITWIN networks.

The World Education Report, a biennial first published in 1991, presents a broad but concise analysis of major trends and policy issues in education, including many tables, graphs, and a unique set of statistics"World Education Indicators"which give a country-by-country summary of key aspects of education in over 180 countries.

In January 1993, UNESCO set up the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-First Century, under the Chairmanship of Jacques Delors, President of the Commission of the European Community, to study and reflect on the challenges facing education in the coming years, and to make recommendations that can serve as an agenda for renewal, innovation, and action for policy-makers. The Commission focused its reflection on one central questionwhat kind of education is needed for what kind of society of tomorrow?in its report at the end of 1995.

The Associated Schools Project (ASP), an international network set up to experiment with ways and means for enhancing the role of education in preparing young people to live in a world community, was launched in 1953. As of 2006, it included some 7,800 educational institutions in 175 countries, which conduct pilot projects to enhance education for a culture of peace. ASPnet schools focus on any of four main themes of study: World Concerns and the role of the United Nations system; Human Rights, Democracy, and Tolerance; Intercultural Learning; and Environmental Concern.

Closely linked with the Associated Schools Project, often carrying out joint projects in crucial fields such as literacy work and the environment, are the 5,000 UNESCO associations, centers and clubs, the first of which was founded in 1947. Found in some 120 countries, with members from all age groups, they are set up in schools, universities, as associations or as permanent centers and, since 1981, are grouped together as part of the World Federation of UNESCO Clubs, Centers and Associations (WFUCA).

In specific educational areas, UNESCO's work is supported by three separate institutes which conduct research and training programs. The International Bureau of Education (IBE), located in Geneva, serves as an international center for studies and publications on comparative education. The International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP), in Paris, organizes an annual nine-month training program for education planners and administrators, and offers training courses in the planning, financing and management of education. The Institute for Education (UIE), located in Hamburg, focuses on adult and non-formal education, within the framework of lifelong learning.

B. The Natural Sciences

UNESCO is the only organization within the UN system to have a mandate for the basic sciences. This mandate implies UNESCO's commitment to the promotion of multilateral, international, and regional cooperation for the training of specialists from developing countries in university science education and basic research in the four core areas of basic science, namely mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology. Projects to be implemented in these and allied, interdisciplinary areas are selected for the impact they will have on strengthening national capacities, enabling access to current scientific information, human resources development, and their real or potential impact on sustainable development.

One of the main accomplishments of the Rio Conference on Environment and Development was Agenda 21, an international program of action for global sustainable development into the 21st century. Because of its broad mandate and long experience, UNESCO is implicated in many aspects of UNCED follow-up, with particular emphasis on Agenda 21 and the conventions on biological diversity and climate change.

In UNESCO's Natural Sciences sector, priority is therefore being given to implementing the recommendations of Agenda 21 by promoting multidisciplinary scientific programs which combine training, information and research and which are at the interface between environment and development. Special attention is also being accorded to the promotion of teaching (especially at the university level) and research in the basic sciences and engineering.

Environment and development problems have been a major focus of the Organization's work for the past 50 years. Beginning with the Arid Zone Programme in 1951, numerous UNESCO programs have been launched to address research, education, training, and policy needs related to specific environment and development issues, such as water resources management and the conservation of biological diversity and ecological systems such as islands, tropical forests, and arid lands.

The activities of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), with 129 countries participating in 2006, primarily center around narrowing down the uncertainties about the role of the ocean in climate and global systems. In response to Agenda 21, the IOC adopted new strategies and action plans, especially in the field of oceanography.

IOC has developed global and regional ocean science programs related to living and non-living resources, and marine pollution research and monitoring, and enhanced the efficiency of the International Tsunami Warning System in the Pacific. It also organizes training and assistance and provides information, together with WMO, to coastal and island member states on events in the oceans and adjacent seas through a quarterly "Products Bulletin of the Integrated Global Ocean Services System," a precursor of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS).

The International Hydrological Decade, another intergovernmental program, was launched by UNESCO in 1965. In 1975 it became a long-term endeavor, the International Hydrological Programme (IHP). In its sixth phase (200207), the IHP is devoted to the topic "Water Interactions: Systems at Risk and Social Challenges." It outlined five broad themes on which to concentrate: global changes and water resources; integrated watershed and aquifer dynamics; land habitat hydrology; water and society; and water education and training.

Under the "Diversitas" program, in cooperation with the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS) and the Scientific Committee On Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) of the International Council for Science (ICSU) (formerly International Council of Scientific Unions), UNESCO is promoting worldwide coordinated research on, and inventories and the monitoring of, biological diversity.

A Biotechnological Information Exchange System (BITES) has also been developed.

The Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme was launched in 1971 as an international program of applied research on the interactions between man and his environment. The program aims to provide the scientific knowledge and trained personnel to manage natural resources in a rational and sustained manner, giving priority to work in the field at the local level, within general frameworks for scientific cooperation at the international level. Based on a network of 144 MAB national committees, the program monitors the international biosphere reserve network, and has developed a number of problem-oriented research programs involving specialists from developing countries.

The International Geological Correlation Programme is a joint environmental activity between UNESCO and the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS), whose objectives are increasing knowledge of geological processes through correlation studies of many locations around the world, developing more effective ways of finding and assessing energy and mineral resources, and improving research methods and techniques. The transfer of traditional and new technologies, such as computerized information handling (GIS, DAS and PANGIS) and remote sensing analysis (e.g. GARS) to developing countries is privileged.

C. The Social and Human Sciences

UNESCO encourages the development of the social and human sciences at the international and regional levels by promoting training and research activities, as well as international exchanges.

In the fields of peace, human rights, and democracy, UNESCO's activities are aimed at the promotion and protection of human rights, consolidation of peace and democracy, as well as at the prevention and elimination of all forms of discrimination by means of research and education, dissemination of information and publications, and organization of meetings in cooperation with governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations. UNESCO's activities in this field have led to the elaboration of important international instruments.

The emergence of multicultural and multiethnic societies, urbanization, and globalization are the transformation processes at the heart of the Management of Social Transformations Programme (MOST), established by the 1993 General Conference to foster policy-relevant, interdisciplinary and comparative social science research in three fieldsthe management of multiethnic societies, cities as arenas of accelerated social transformations, and coping locally and regionally with transnational phenomena.

The International Bioethics Committee, composed of specialists in biology, genetics, medicine, law, philosophy, and the social and human sciences, was set up to meet the ethical concern arising from progress in life sciences.

Within the framework of a UNESCO/UNFPA project, research is conducted on socio-cultural factors affecting demographic change.

UNESCO has an extensive program on the improvement of women's condition, stressing the principle of equality between men and women and against all forms of discrimination. This program provided input for the Fourth UN World Conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace (Beijing, September 1995), and for its follow-up conference, "Beijing + 5: Women 2000" held in June 2000 in New York.

The organization's youth program deals with the analysis of problems and dissemination of information concerning youth, enrollment of young people in the service of international cooperation, development and peace, and action on behalf of disadvantaged young people. To counteract splintering of various and scattered information sources and networks on youth and to help implement youth policies from global to local levels, in 1991 UNESCO set up the INFOYOUTH Network, a clearing house and information service for members states and partners.

D. Culture

UNESCO's main cultural activities are devoted to safeguarding the cultural heritage, preserving and fostering respect for cultural identities and diversity, and promoting creative and intellectual expression. Almost two thousand projects were launched worldwide in the context of the World Decade for Cultural Development (198897), including projects on the "Maya World," "Espaces du Baroque," "Slave Route" and "Iron Road." "The Silk Roads: Roads of Dialogue" project continues to assess the findings of four expeditions carried out in previous years and a joint UNESCO/ World Tourism Organization project for cultural tourism on the Silk Roads in Central Asia was launched in 1993.

Safeguarding of Cultural Heritage

Under the terms of its constitution, UNESCO was entrusted with the task of "ensuring the preservation and protection of the world heritage of works of art and monuments of historic or scientific interest."

Training activities aimed at strengthening the application of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property continue to be an important part of UNESCO's activities in this field.

UNESCO's activities in safeguarding the world's cultural heritage are best known through its campaigns to mobilize international support. The first such campaign was devoted to safeguarding the monuments of Nubia, in Egypt, and led to the successful reconstruction of the Temple of Abu Simbel, a us$ 40 million undertaking. Another project, successfully brought to a conclusion in 1983, was the restoration of Borobudur in Indonesia. A second Egyptian campaign was devoted to the creation of museums in Aswan and Cairo. As of May 2006, the World Heritage List in Danger included 34 sites around the world, including one in the United StatesEverglades National Park.

The growing determination of member states to preserve their national cultural heritage has led to an increase in museum development and in activities to preserve historical monuments and sites, works of art, and other cultural property. UNESCO's contribution in this field has consisted mainly in the provision of consultant services, equipment, supplies, and financial assistance to individual projects throughout the world. Improving the training of specialists in the conservation, preservation, and presentation of cultural heritage has involved the provision of lecturers and fellowships for international, regional, and subregional training projects.

UNESCO's activities have also resulted in the adoption of a number of conventions and recommendations, such as the International Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and National Heritagecalled the World Heritage Conventionadopted by the General Conference in 1972. The convention provides, for the first time, a permanent legal, administrative, and financial framework for international cooperation. It also relates sectors that had previously been considered very differentthe protection of cultural heritage and that of natural heritageand introduces the concept of "world heritage," transcending political and geographical boundaries. The convention aims to foster a greater awareness among all peoples of the irreplaceable value of world heritage and the perils to which it is exposed. It is intended to complement, assist, and stimulate national endeavors without either competing with or replacing them. By 3 May 2006, the convention had been ratified or accepted by 178 member states. The World Heritage Committee has thus far included 812 cultural and natural sites on the World Heritage List and has regularly approved financial support for technical cooperation through the World Heritage Fund.

Under its research, study, and information exchange activities, UNESCO has contributed to the advancement and spread of specialized knowledge concerning heritage preservation. It has issued a series of technical manuals on such subjects as museums, underwater archaeology, preserving and restoring monuments and historic buildings, the man-made landscape, conservation standards for works of art in transit and on exhibition, and conservation of stone. In response to the need for more elementary and accessible practical guidance, particularly in developing countries, a new series of technical handbooks was launched in 1975. The quarterly, Museum International, published since 1948, is an international forum of information and reflection on museums of all kinds.

Study and Dissemination of Cultures

An important part of UNESCO's activities in the field of culture focus on cultural identity, including the preparation of general histories and works on various geocultural areas.

By 2006, UNESCO had published more than 10,000 titles in English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Arabic, published under its own imprint or co-published. The organization publishes some 160 new titles each year and has distributors in 110 countries. For young readers, the World Heritage series is a bestseller with over 1.3 million copies printed in English, French, and Spanish. Large-scale international projects involving specialists from different countries have resulted in major works such as The General History of Africa, History of Humanity, History of Civilizations of Central Asia, History of Latin America, and History of the Caribbean.

Cultural Development

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that everyone has the right to participate freely in the cultural life of society. This principle implies the right of people in different societies to share in the cultural heritage of the world community, and it implies that culture cannot be the privilege of an elite few but must be regarded as a dimension of human life. In this spirit, since the end of the 1960s, UNESCO has attached increased importance to cultural policies and activities related to cultural development. The principles governing UNESCO's activities in the field of culture stress the strengthening of the cultural dimension of development, that is, viewing culture not only in itself but also in relation to certain key areas of development, such as educational systems (including the cultural content of education and the adaptation of teaching models to local culture), the environment, science, and communication.

In 1970 the Intergovernmental Conference on Institutional, Administrative, and Financial Aspects of Cultural Policies, held in Venice, examined the role of public authorities in defining and achieving the objectives of cultural development and acknowledged for the first time the responsibility of governments to provide and plan for the cultural needs of society by implementing appropriate cultural policies. The Venice conference was followed by a series of regional conferences on cultural policies. Discussions at these meetings reflected a need to locate humanity and culture at the heart of the development process, rather than considering development as only economic progress.

The World Conference on Cultural Policies, held in Mexico City in 1982, took stock of the experience acquired in policies and practices in the field of culture and gave new impetus to the worldwide action carried out under UNESCO's auspices. The conference unanimously adopted the Mexico City Declaration on Cultural Policies, which proclaimed the guiding principles for promoting culture and strengthening the cultural dimension of development.

The World Commission on Culture and Development, under the Chairmanship of former UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar was set up in December 1992 to focus on interrelations between culture and development in general and cultural policies and development models in particular. The Commission, composed of 12 members and five honorary members, presented its final report at the end of 1995 to the UN General Assembly and UNESCO's General Conference. The Commission's work is centered around five fundamental questions: the impact of cultural and socio-cultural factors on development; the impact of social and economic development on culture; the relationship between culture and models of development; the influence of cultural development on individual and collective well-being; and the role of cultural activities and artistic creativity in development and international cooperation.

E. Communication, Information, and Informatics

UNESCO is enjoined by its constitution to "collaborate in the work of advancing the mutual knowledge and understanding of peoples, through all means of mass communication." It is also authorized to recommend international agreements to facilitate "the free flow of ideas by word and image" and to encourage the international exchange of persons active in intellectual affairs and the exchange of "publications, objects of scientific interest, and other materials of information."

New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO)

In the 1970s, developing countries began to express their concern that the world's news media were predominantly Western-controlled. Major syndicated newspapers, press agencies like UPI, Reuters and Agence France Presse, the US networks, the BBC, and the ORTF of France, were seen to be innately biased in their reporting on third world countries. It was felt that those organizations were able to greatly influence public opinion both in their own nations and in the developing countries themselves. The new nations of the UN system called for a New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) which would allow them greater access to the sources of global information. At that time, UNESCO considered it a constitutional responsibility, and one especially pertinent to communication, to contribute to the removal of imbalances and inequalities in the capacity to produce, disseminate, and receive messages, and to eliminate the obstacles to a wider and better balanced flow of information.

In 1976, following a decision of the General Conference inviting UNESCO to undertake a review of all the problems of communication in contemporary society in the context of technological progress and recent developments in international relations, an international commission was appointed to study communication problems. The commission's recommendations were published by UNESCO in 1980 under the title Many Voices, One World. The General Conference considered the commission's report in 1980 and proposed 11 considerations on which a New World Information and Communication Order could be based. It also urged UNESCO "to contribute to the clarification, elaboration and application of the concept of a New World Information and Communication Order."

In 1978 the General Conference adopted the Declaration on Fundamental Principles Concerning the Contribution of the Mass Media to Strengthening Peace and International Understanding, to the Promotion of Human Rights and to Countering Racialism, Apartheid and Incitement to War. This declaration raised alarm in Western media organizations and governments. The declaration was interpreted as implying controls on press freedom. In later debates some Soviet countries proposed the licensing of journalists. However these proposals were never adopted, and no program of action based on them was ever put into action.

In the belief that high tariffs were an obstacle to the free flow of information, a UNESCO Working Group on Telecommunication Tariffs, established in 1979, recommended special tariffs under a Development Press Bulletin Service and a Conventional Press Bulletin Service to be applied to developing and developed countries, respectively.

The 1980 General Conference urged UNESCO "to contribute to the clarification, elaboration and application of the concept of a New World Information and Communication Order." However, the acrimonious public debate about NWICO had already damaged UNESCO's image in the West, and prompted the United States Congress to insert provisos in its 198283 appropriation for UNESCO stating that the funds would be withheld: "if that organization implements any policy or procedure the effect of which is to license journalists or their publications, to censor or otherwise restrict the free flow of information within or among countries, or to impose mandatory codes of journalistic practice or ethics."

Although the General Conference's espousal of NWICO was not cited in the United States' 1984 decision to withdraw from UNESCO (see Membership), concern over the "politicization" it represented was emblematic of the suspicion with which the Western countries (in particular the United States and the United Kingdom) regarded Soviet influence in the developing world. Now that developing nations greatly outnumbered industrialized nations, it was perceived that programs of action could be passed in UNESCO that were contrary to the interests of the West.

In 1989 the General Conference decided, by general agreement, to adopt a "New Strategy" in communication. The objective of this new strategy is "to render more operational the concern of the Organization to ensure a free flow of information at international as well as national levels, and its wider and better balanced dissemination, without any obstacle to the freedom of expression, and to strengthen communication capacities in the developing countries, so that they can participate more actively in the communication process." This last goal is implemented through UNESCO's International Program for the Development of Communication.

In February 1990, UNESCO organized an informal meeting of East-West media representatives to learn more about the needs of an independent press in Eastern Europe and how it could help to meet them. Since then, a number of regional seminars have been held to secure international support for strengthening press freedom and diversity.

AfghanistanEcuadorMadagascarSierra Leone
AlgeriaEl SalvadorMalaysiaSlovenia
AndorraEquatorial GuineaMaldivesSolomon Islands
Antigua and BarbudaEstoniaMaltaSouth Africa
ArgentinaEthiopiaMarshall IslandsSpain
ArmeniaFijiMauritaniaSri Lanka
BahamasGambiaMoldova, Republic ofSweden
BangladeshGermanyMongoliaSyrian Arab Republic
BelgiumGrenadaMyanmarThe Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Bosnia and HerzegovinaHaitiNew ZealandTrinidad and Tobago
Brunei DarussalamIcelandNigeriaTurkmenistan
Burkina FasoIndonesiaNorwayUganda
CambodiaIraqPakistanUnited Arab Emirates
CameroonIrelandPalauUnited Kingdom
CanadaIsraelPanamaUnited Republic of Tanzania
Cape VerdeItalyPapua New GuineaUnited States
Central African RepublicJamaicaParaguayUruguay
Congo, Republic ofKorea, Democratic People's Republic ofRomaniaZambia
Congo, Democratic Republic of theRussian FederationZimbabwe
Cook Islands Costa RicaKorea, Republic of KuwaitRwanda St. Kitts and NevisASSOCIATE MEMBERS
Côte d'IvoireKyrgyzstanSt. LuciaAruba
CroatiaLao People's Democratic RepublicSt. Vincent and the GrenadinesBritish Virgin Islands
CubaLatviaSamoaCayman Islands
CyprusLebanonSan MarinoMacau
Czech RepublicLesothoSão Tomé and PríncipeNetherlands Antilles
DenmarkLiberiaSaudi ArabiaTokelau
DjiboutiLibyan Arab JamahiriyaSenegal
DominicaLithuaniaSerbia and Montenegro
Dominican RepublicLuxembourgSeychelles
The Windhoek and Other Declarations

In April 1991, UNESCO and the United Nations convened a round table for media professionals in Windhoek, Namibia. Participants assessed the situation of the press in Africa and, on 3 May, adopted the Windhoek Declaration, which declared that "independence, pluralism and diversity" were essential for the media in democracy. The United Nations declared May 3rd, the anniversary of the signing of the Windhoek Declaration, as International Press Freedom Day. UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor declared in a speech to the World Press Freedom Committee in 1992: "UNESCO is fully committed to the advance of press and media freedom. This means leaving codes of journalistic ethics and similar issues in the new and emerging democratic systems strictly within the purview of the press and media professionals themselves." As a follow-up to the Windhoek Declaration, similar regional meetings were held in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in 1992 and in Santiago, Chile, in 1994.

Other similar declarations have been made since Windhoek, notably the Alma Ata Declaration (Kazakhstan, 1992) on promoting independent and pluralistic media in Asia; the Sana'a Declaration (Yemen, 1996) on promoting independent and pluralistic media in the Arab world; and the Sofia Declaration (Bulgaria, 1997), which declared that the move toward democracy in Central and Eastern European states would promote a climate that would foster independent and pluralistic media. In May 2001, UNESCO celebrated World Press Freedom Day in Windhoek. A conference of journalists, editors, and representatives of NGOs and professional organizations marked the 10th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration. UNESCO celebrated World Press Freedom Day 2006 (3 May) in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Communication Technologies for Development

UNESCO has been particularly concerned with the problem of disparities in communication existing between the developed and developing countries, which the great strides in communication technologies have only served to emphasize. In this field, UNESCO relies on two programs for the implementation of its activities: the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) and the Information for All Programme (IFAP).

One of the most important ways of improving information flow is by building up the resources of developing countries. The International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), set up in 1980, aims to strengthen the resources of developing countries in terms of both personnel and equipment, to facilitate production and dissemination of news and other programming, thereby diminishing the imbalances that exists in the flow of information. At the 17th session of the IPDC Intergovernmental Council in March 1997, the Council concentrated on the questions of the role, crisis, and problems of media in societies in transition and the role of press freedom and independence of media in democracy. At its 18th session, held in Paris in March 1998, the IPDC decided that its fellowship program would particularly promote young journalists. At the 25th session held in March 2006, the IPDC decided to help fund 78 new media projects.

The General Information Programme (PGI) was launched in 1976 to assist member states, particularly in the developing world, to increase their capacity to gather, organize, diffuse and utilize information. The PGI assists member states in establishing national information policies. It also helps governments recognize the value of public records as a strategic resource for public administration through the Records and Archives Management Program (RAMP). It provides access to knowledge and technical know-how in the treatment of information and research, by training specialists and coordinating information systems in developing countries. It also undertakes the "Memory of the World" project, aimed at safeguarding library collections and archives.

UNESCO's Intergovernmental Informatics Programme (IIP) carries out regional and national activities in its priority areas of training, computer networking, soft ware production, informatics research and development, and national informatics strategies. Among the projects approved by the IIP Bureau in the 1990s were the "Computer network for the countries of the MaghrebMaghrebNet" and the "Strengthening of the Regional Informatics Network for Eastern EuropeRINEE."

In the 1990s, the Organization reinforced its program in favor of independent and pluralist media, notably through the International Freedom of Expression Exchange Network (IFEX). UNESCO encourages movements towards the liberalization of media in Africa, Asia (including Central Asia), and Central and Eastern Europe, by assisting member states in restructuring their broadcasting systems, preparing appropriate legislation, and training media specialists.

Infrastructural projects supported by the United Nations, UNHCR and professional organizations for peace-building have been carried out in Cambodia, South Africa, and the former Yugoslavia.

Other Activities in Communications

Many of UNESCO's activities in the field of communications involve extensive data collection, analysis, and dissemination. The World Communication Report, a reference tool which focuses on trends in information and communication technologies and their impact on the work of media professionals and on society at large, was published in 1989; an updated version was published in 1996.

An agreement with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) came into effect in 1993 and a joint study on telecommunication tariffs in the field of education, science, and culture was completed.

UNESCO also prepared the booklet Island Agenda, which analyzes the problems facing small island states and the way in which UNESCO's expertise in education, science, culture, and communication can be used to catalyze sustainable development.

In preparation for the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in September 1995, UNESCO organized regional workshops on the theme of women in the media. It equally participated in the "Beijing +5" conference in New York in June 2000. In addition, a World Summit on the Information Society was held in Geneva in December 2003 and in Tunis in November 2005.

F. Agreement on the Importation of Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Materials

The states that are parties to the Agreement on the Importation of Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Materials and its protocol, adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO at Florence in 1950 and at Nairobi in 1976, respectively, exempt all the following materials from customs duties and any other importation charges: books, newspapers, and periodicals; various other categories of printed or duplicated matter; manuscripts, including typescripts; music; geographical, hydrographic, and astronomical maps and charts, irrespective of language and destination; works of art (paintings, drawings, and sculpture) and antiques, defined as articles more than 100 years old; visual and auditory materials, such as films, filmstrips, microfilms, sound recordings, glass slides, models, wall charts, and posters of an educational, scientific, or cultural character; and scientific instruments and apparatus, under the conditions that they be intended exclusively for educational purposes or pure scientific research, that they be consigned to public or private institutions approved by the importing country as entitled to exemption from customs duty, and that instruments or apparatus of equivalent scientific value not be manufactured in the importing country. Books and other publications for the blind and other materials of an educational, scientific, or cultural character for the use of the blind are also exempt.

G. The UNESCO Coupon Program

UNESCO coupons are a type of international money order permitting persons living in countries with foreign-exchange restrictions to purchase from abroad books and many other articles of a scientific or cultural nature.

A person living in a country that participates in the UNESCO coupon plan who wishes to obtain from another participating country an item covered by the plan buys the required UNESCO coupons, pays for them in local currency at the official UN rate, and mails them abroad without having to go through any formalities. To redeem the coupons, the seller sends them to Bankers Trust Company in New York (for the Americas), the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science in Tokyo (for Asia and the Far East), or to UNESCO's headquarters in Paris (for Europe and Africa). They are redeemed in the seller's national currency at the official UN exchange rate, after the deduction of a handling charge.

H. Encouragement of International Exchanges

As a means of promoting education, research, and international understanding, UNESCO aids and encourages various forms of exchange between its member states. It acts as a clearinghouse for governments, as well as international organizations, on all questions of exchange; administers its own program of fellowships and exchange of experts; and promotes study, training, and teaching abroad with the cooperation of governments and organizations.

The principal publication issued by the exchange service is Study Abroad, a trilingual publication issued every two years, listing opportunities for subsidized higher education and training abroad through a wide variety of fellowships, scholarships, and educational exchange programs of nearly 3,000 awarding agencies in some 120 different countries and territories.

I. Cooperative Action Program

UNESCO's Cooperative Action Program (Co-Action) enables individuals and groups to make direct contributions to community development projects such as schools, libraries, and vocational institutions for the disabled in developing countries. An illustrated catalog of selected Co-Action projects describing some of the priority needs and estimated costs is issued by UNESCO.

Direct "people-to-people" relationships are established between donors and recipients that often develop into lasting friendships; the program has special appeal for school groups.

About this article

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

Updated About content Print Article


The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)