Politics: Germany stands by UNESCO
Following the announced withdrawal of the United States and Israel, the UN organisation is facing challenging times.
The United States and Israel are turning their backs on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The German Government continues to support UNESCO as it believes its mandate is unique.
What are UNESCO’s tasks?
The organisation is first and foremost known for its World Heritage List. However, it also operates in many other spheres, for instance, education, freedom of opinion, equality, culture, science or the fight against racism. Generally speaking, its task is to foster international understanding through education and exchange. The UNESCO Constitution states: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.”
Why are the United States and Israel criticising UNESCO?
They are mainly accusing the organisation of anti-Israeli tendencies and unnecessary politicisation. The crisis has been simmering for quite some time now. It began in 2011 when UNESCO became the first international organisation to admit the Palestinian territories as a member state – in the face of opposition from the United States, Israel as well as Germany. The Obama Administration subsequently stopped payment of the United States’ contributions. In 2017, the decision to designate the old town of Hebron a Palestinian World Heritage site provoked anger because there was initially no mention of Hebron’s Jewish tradition. Shortly after that, Washington and Tel Aviv announced that their countries were withdrawing from UNESCO. This step will take effect at the end of 2018.
Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.
What does Germany think of the allegations?
The German Government has also noted tendencies to instrumentalise UNESCO for extraneous political purposes. It therefore takes the view that UNESCO should revert to focusing on its core mandate and organise its work more efficiently. However, it believes it is wrong to turn away from the organisation. It regards UNESCO as a key international forum and an invaluable coordinating body. Especially in difficult times, the German Governments feels it is crucial to seek dialogue and understanding there.
What will be the concrete consequences of the withdrawal?
UNESCO’s financial situation is precarious. Ever since the United States stopped paying its membership contributions, the organisation has clocked up more than half a billion dollars in debt. The withdrawal probably means that UNESCO has lost this sum for good and, consequently, that it will have to make do with less funding on a permanent basis and reorganise its structures.
What lies ahead for UNESCO?
On account of the financial situation alone, the organisation will have to carry out tough reforms. A list of more than 100 points is currently being drawn up with a view to improving working methods and developing a new budget procedure. The new French Director-General Audrey Azoulay is relying on the cooperation of member states on initiating these reforms. She has already achieved some initial progress, also in defusing the political conflicts. She can count on Germany’s support.
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