Monday, December 10, 2007

The Office of Director General of UNESCO

Luther H. Evans
The only U.S. citizen to be
elected Director General

The Director General is the chief executive officer of UNESCO. The DG's term of office is four years (previously six years), and the Director General is elected by the General Conference. The current Director General, Koïchiro Matsuura, has been in office since 1999. He was reelected to that post by the 33rd General Conference of UNESCO in 2005. Thus there is some speculation as the election of his successor in 2009.

There have been nine Directors General since UNESCO was founded in 1946:
  • Koïchiro Matsuura from Asia
  • Four from Europe: Federico Mayor (1987 - 1999), René Maheu (1962 - 1974; acting 1959, 1961-1962), Vittorino Veronese (1958 - 1961), and Julian Huxley (1946 - 1948)
  • Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow from Africa
  • Three from North America: Luther Evans (1953 - 1958). John W. Taylor (Acting DG 1952 - 1953), and Jaime Torres Bodet (1948 - 1952)
The position of Director General of UNESCO is an important one within the system of intergovernmental organizations. Therefore the election of a new Director General is the subject not only of electioneering by individual candidates, but also diplomatic negotiations among member nations.

There is an informal understanding that the post should rotate among the (193) member nations of UNESCO, and indeed among continents and groups of nations. Moreover, there are informal understandings about the need to distribute leadership of UN family organizations among nations. (The situation is somewhat different in international financial institutions, programs of the United Nations such as the UNDP, UNICEF and UNFPA, and organizations with their own general assemblies such as UNESCO, WHO, and FAO.)

The Islamic nations, which form a large cultural block with significant voting power in United Nations bodies, may see their opportunity in the next General Conference to elect one of their citizens to the post of Director General. You can be sure that State Department diplomats are already debating possible candidates and consulting with their counterparts in other delegations to UNESCO.

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