US set to lose voting rights at UN cultural agency

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 November, 2013, 7:37pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 November, 2013, 3:34am


The US was yesterday scheduled to be stripped of its voting rights at the world's cultural agency, Unesco, a high-profile blow to American influence in culture, science and education around the world.

And it would cost the US hundreds of millions of dollars to win this voice back.

The US has not paid its dues to the Paris-based UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation in three years, in protest over the decision by world governments to make Palestine a Unesco member in 2011.

Under Unesco rules, the US had until yesterday morning to resume funding, or automatically lose its vote.

The suspension of US contributions, which account for US$80 million a year - 22 per cent of Unesco's overall budget - brought the agency to the brink of a financial crisis and forced it to cut American-led initiatives such as a Holocaust education programme 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 programmes fighting extremism through education, and promoting gender equality and press freedoms.

"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 cutoff for any UN agency with Palestine as a member.

The agency may be best known for its programme to protect the cultures of the world via its various 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 organisation. 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 programmes already slashed over funding shortages is one in Iraq that was intended to help restore proper water facilities. Another was a Holocaust and genocide awareness programme in Africa.

Jordan moves in

Jordan will replace Saudi Arabia on the Security Council for a two-year term starting in January after the Saudis' unprecedented rejection of the seat hours after they were elected, a UN diplomat said.

Earlier this week, Jordan dropped its bid for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, leaving Saudi Arabia a clear path in the now uncontested election next Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Ministry stunned the diplomatic world with the announcement that it was rejecting the Security Council seat, citing failures to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war in Syria.

Associated Press