Newswire: U.S. rejoins U. N. cultural body abandoned during Trump Presidency

African women receiving assistance from UNESCO

July 3, 2023 (GIN) – After an absence of four years, the U.N. will return to UNESCO, a global cultural and education body that contributes to peace and security by promoting international cooperation in education, sciences, culture, communication and information.

As a condition of readmission, the US will repay around $619 million in unpaid dues, meet 22% of Unesco’s annual budget, and make contributions to programs supporting education access initiatives in Africa, Holocaust remembrance and journalists’ safety.

Beyond stepping up actions for Africa, Unesco said it would be able to increase its efforts toward gender equality, a strategic priority.

A rift with the U.S. began in 2011 when the organization voted to admit Palestine, which is not formally recognized by the US or Israel as a UN member state. The Obama administration cut Unesco contributions, sending the US into owing millions in arrears to the organization.

Five years later, in 2016, the Unesco World Heritage Committee adopted a decision ruling that Israeli actions related to archaeology, tourism and freedom of movement in the Old City of Jerusalem contravened cultural heritage laws and practices.

US and Israeli officials complained that not including the full Jewish history in any decision about Jerusalem was equivalent to a denial of Jewish history.

In 2017, the US blamed “mounting arrears at Unesco, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at Unesco” as reasons for its withdrawal.

The U.S. was accepted back after a two-day special session held at Unicef’s headquarters in Paris.
Ten states voted against the US, including Russia, Belarus, Iran, North Korea and Nicaragua. China, which had become the organization’s biggest financial backer in the absence of the US, also voted against readmittance.

“I am encouraged and grateful that Unesco members have accepted the US proposal that will allow us to continue steps toward rejoining the organization,” American secretary of state Antony Blinken said in a statement.

Among Unesco’s accomplishments was the reconstruction of destroyed mausoleums of Timbuktu (Mali).

The 13th century mausoleums of Muslim saints had been demolished by extremists and some 4,200 ancient manuscripts were burned or stolen.

Timbuktu was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1988 for its Outstanding Universal Value as an African intellectual and spiritual capital in the 15th and 16th centuries. 

An international treaty called the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by Unesco in 1972 cites for protection East Africa’s Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Baroque cathedrals of Latin America that make up our world’s heritage.

The UN’s director for the International Crisis Group, Richard Gowan, told CBS News: “Biden’s team believes that Trump ceded a lot of ground to China with its anti-UN attitude. “The decision to rejoin Unesco is just the latest example of the US deciding it can do more to counter China by actively engaging in UN institutions than sitting on the sidelines.”

Audrey Azoulay, Unesco Director-General, added: “We need to send the message that destroying sites classified by Unesco cannot go unpunished.”

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