News

    US Returns to UNESCO - 2003-09-30

    Multimedia

    Audio

    Nearly two decades after quitting the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization over charges of bias and inefficiency, the United States officially rejoins the Paris-based body Wednesday.

    The U.S. flag was raised over the UNESCO headquarters in the presence of First Lady Laura Bush and UNESCO Secretary General Koichiro Matsuura in Paris. The American return is considered a coup for the organization's Japanese head, who has spent much his four-year tenure wooing Washington back.

    The United States quit UNESCO in 1984 after concluding the body had strayed far from its purpose of promoting peace and security through education, scientific, and cultural relations. Critics also charged that a so-called new world information order promoted by former UNESCO Secretary General Amadou Mahtar M'Bow was designed to muzzle press freedom.

    But in recent years, a growing chorus of U.S. leaders, including former secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and George Shultz, have called for Washington's return to UNESCO. Last year, President George Bush announced it would do so.

    The main reason was that, largely under Mr. Matsuura's leadership, UNESCO is credited with bringing about radical internal reforms, slashing staff and tackling allegations of corruption, nepotism and cultural bias.

    During her speech Monday, Mrs. Bush called on the organization to place more emphasis on education in developing and war-torn countries.

    "By directing our resources toward these four priorities: basic literacy and primary education, education in tolerance, post-conflict education, and AIDS/HIV education, UNESCO will be acting on its most important purpose and lifting millions of lives," she said. "Today, in unity with every nation here, the United States commits itself to the promise of education for every man, woman and child."

    The First Lady also praised UNESCO's other goals of promoting science, technology, and cultural heritage.

    Many delegates, like the German ambassador to UNESCO, Hans-Heinrich Wrede, were quick to praise the return of the Americans.

    "Germany is extremely pleased that the United States [is returning] to UNESCO," said Ambassador Wrede. "It will certainly make a tremendous contribution to its work. And this contribution will not only be in terms of financial resources, obviously the United States is going to be the biggest contributor to our budget. But it will especially be a contribution in terms of ideas coming from the American side, coming from American civil society."

    Libyan delegate Abdel Kader Al Maleh also welcomed Washington's return to UNESCO as a way for Americans to understand the concerns of other nations.

    "To understand other people, and opinions and concepts, and to know what is going on, particularly in the Third World," said Mr. Al Maleh. "To understand what is happening. People fear the Americans are far from them, far from all things."

    "When something goes wrong, you do not leave," added Kenyan delegate Shem Wandiga, who thought the United States should not have left in the first place. "As the leader of a house, you do not just abandon the house, and say I am fed up, I am going," he said. "They should have helped us straighten things within UNESCO and possibly have a better influence on the future direction of UNESCO than they've had so far."

    For others, the U.S. return to UNESCO has sparked concern. Some diplomats expressed fear the United States will impose its own agenda on the body and that concepts it will promote, such as tolerance, diversity and human rights, may not be ones they accept.

    One battle already looming is on cultural diversity, which is expected to pit U.S. calls for a free flow of ideas and goods across borders against demands by France and several other countries for greater protection for movies and other cultural products.

    But at a news conference, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, who heads the American delegation to UNESCO this week, insisted Washington did not intend to impose its agenda.

    "We want to hear from other member countries," said Mr. Paige. "We want to learn their point of view. We want to share our thoughts. But I think you can expect the United States to be a good team member, with other countries within UNESCO working toward world peace."

    U.S. dues will amount to almost a quarter of UNESCO's budget, which is expected to increase from 544 to $610 million in the next two years. Critics say that amount will not meet the organization's ambitious agenda.

    Mr. Wandiga, the Kenyan delegate, and a chemistry professor from Nairobi says UNESCO's chemistry budget for Africa is minuscule.

    "There are no funds," he said. "In the last biennium, the whole continent only had $20,000 for chemistry. What can you do with $20,000 in a continent with as big and wide a need for science, particularly in my discipline?"

    But while Washington's return may not answer all UNESCO's budgetary needs, many delegates are eager to tap American expertise. Even symbolically, they say, the U.S. return will boost UNESCO's credibility and effectiveness worldwide.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora