Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Editorial: Expand the Functions of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO

I have sought not to insert personal opinions on this blog, but only to provide information on UNESCO. I depart from that practice on this occasion, invoking blogger’s privilege, to editorialize. The following opinions are mine alone.

The Mission of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO (NatCom) as currently defined is too narrow. The NatCom is an exceptional resource for the nation, and we should broaden its functions in order to utilize its capabilities more fully. UNESCO’s multilateral approach serves U.S. interests in the fight for peace, the war against poverty, and the effort to control terrorism. A strong, fully-functioning U.S. National Commission can help to realize UNESCO’s mission and help to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives.

A more fully involved U.S. NatCom is fully appropriate to this nation’s open, democratic government, and the leading role civil society has played in the nation’s life. As the United States promotes democracy in other nations, we stress the importance of civil society. A participatory network of National Commissions for UNESCO with strong civil society participation is vital to U.S. interests in the governance of UNESCO, and serves as an ally too in our global democratization efforts. It would set a very poor precedent were the U.S. Government to limit the role of civil society in the U.S. NatCom!

UNESCO was created in the aftermath of World War II by political leaders who believed then, as I believe now, that war is created in the minds of men and so too must a lasting peace be created in the minds of men. UNESCO’s role was then to work with the educators, the scientists, the cultural leaders, and the communicators in all nations, bringing them together in order to improve mutual understanding, and to advance peace.

UNESCO’s network of National Commissions is a unique feature within the entire U.N. system. When the Constitution of UNESCO was adopted in November 1945, Article VII stipulated that
“each Member State shall make such arrangements as suit its particular conditions for the purpose of associating its principal bodies interested in educational, scientific and cultural matters with the work of the Organization, preferably by the formation of a National Commission broadly representative of the government and such bodies”.
In the six decades since the founding of UNESCO, global efforts to fight poverty have come to the forefront. Poverty too must be fought in the minds of men. Most recently, the United States has embarked on a global war against terrorism. Terrorism too is born in the minds of men, and the ways of thinking of terrorists and their supporters must change if terrorism is to be controlled.

The network of NatComs has grown over the past years as the number of nations belonging to UNESCO has grown. So too, have the roles and responsibilities of National Commissions evolved over the years. Initially entrusted with the tasks of consultation and liaison by the Constitution of UNESCO in 1945, National Commissions were later called upon to take up the functions of information and execution by the General Conference at its 14th session in 1966. The Charter of National Commissions for UNESCO, adopted in 1978, was an important milestone in the evolution of National Commissions. That Charter states:
1. The function of National Commissions is to involve in UNESCO’s activities the various ministerial departments, agencies, institutions, organizations and individuals working for the advancement of education, science, culture and information, so that each Member State may:
(a) Contribute to the maintenance of peace and security and the common welfare of mankind by participating in the activities of UNESCO which aim to advance the mutual knowledge and understanding of peoples, give fresh impulse to popular education and to the spread of culture, and preserve, increase and diffuse knowledge;
(b) Play an ever-increasing role in UNESCO’s work, and particularly in the formulation and execution of its programmes.
2. For this purpose, National Commissions:
(a) Cooperate with their governments and with services, organizations, institutions and individuals concerned with questions within UNESCO’s competence;
(b) Encourage participation of national, governmental and nongovernmental institutions and various individuals in the formulation and execution of UNESCO’s programmes so as to secure for the Organization all the intellectual, scientific, artistic or administrative assistance that it may require;
(c) Disseminate information on the objectives, programme and activities of UNESCO and endeavour to arouse public interest in them.
3. In addition, and depending on the requirements and arrangements of each Member State, National Commissions may:
(a) Participate in the planning and execution of activities entrusted to UNESCO which are undertaken with the assistance of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and other international programmes;
(b) Participate in the search for candidates for UNESCO posts financed under the regular programme or from extra-budgetary sources, and in the placement of UNESCO fellowship holders;
(c) Participate with other National Commissions in joint studies on matters of interest to UNESCO;
(d) Undertake on their own initiative other activities related to the general objectives of UNESCO.
4. National Commissions collaborate with each other and with UNESCO’s regional offices and centres in fostering regional, subregional and bilateral cooperation in education, the sciences, culture and information, particularly through the joint formulation and execution of programmes. This cooperation may bear upon the preparation, implementation and evaluation of projects and may take the form of joint surveys, seminars, meetings and conferences and exchanges of information, material and visits.
According to the Charter of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, however, the functions of the U.S. NatCom are very limited:
The functions of the Commission shall be advisory, and any determination to be made or action to be taken on the basis of Commission recommendations shall be made or taken by appropriate officers of the Untied States Government. The Commission shall offer recommendations with respect to the consideration of issues related to education, science, communications and culture, and the formulation and implementation of U.S. policy toward UNESCO.
It might be argued that a broader role for the NatCom is not allowed by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). However, FACA in Section 9 specifically permits advisory committees to undertake other functions when those functions are “specifically provided by statute or Presidential directive”. The NatCom charter must be renewed after two years, and I recommend that the Presidential directive for the renewal specifically include the broader functions envisioned in the UNESCO documents. The current NatCom members should be asked now for advice on the revision of their Charter.

John A. Daly

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