Sunday, April 13, 2008

UNESCO Destroys 100,000: Director General Launches Investigation

Molly Moore and John Ward Anderson write in The Washington Post (April 13, 2008):
For more than two decades, 250 historians and specialists labored to produce the first six volumes of the General History of Latin America, an exhaustive work financed by UNESCO, the United Nations organization created to preserve global culture and heritage.

Then, over the course of two years, UNESCO paid to destroy many of those books and nearly 100,000 others by turning them to pulp, according to an external audit.

"This is the intellectual organization of the United Nations system," Aziza Bennani, Morocco's ambassador to UNESCO, said in an interview. "How could an employee of UNESCO make a decision to destroy these books?"

Homero Aridjis, Mexico's ambassador, said at the organization's executive council meeting this week, "This is not only a blow to the culture and knowledge of entire populations and nations, it contradicts the mandate entrusted to UNESCO." He demanded an internal investigation.

UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura said it was "completely incomprehensible and inappropriate" that some of the organization's "most important and successful collections" were ordered destroyed, including histories of humanity and Africa, and surveys of ancient monuments.
The article also states:
According to the report, the destruction occurred in 2004 and 2005, when UNESCO's overflowing book storage warehouses in Paris were relocated to Brussels. Rather than pay to move 94,500 books, auditors reported, UNESCO officials ordered them destroyed. The books were turned to pulp for recycling, the audit says.

Nino Muñoz Gomez, director of UNESCO's Bureau of Public Information and chief of the publishing division, said that at least half of the destroyed volumes were outdated and contained obsolete statistical data.

The audit notes that some publications were out of date but says others "on historical or purely literary themes (poetry anthologies, stories from all lands in translation) were not at all affected by obsolescence." It says a "solution other than destruction" should have been considered, "such as free distribution to libraries.".....

Because too many books often were ordered and others were never distributed properly, tens of thousands piled up in UNESCO's storage facilities at a cost of about $100,000 a year, until the agency decided to shift distribution functions to a Brussels company and move its stocks there.

Muñoz Gomez, who assumed his post in April 2005 and was chief of the publishing section for nine months while the book destruction was taking place, said he did not learn of it until early 2006, when a new employee showed him thousands of dollars in bills for the pulping.

He said he authorized payment of those bills "of several thousand euros each" but did not realize the magnitude of the operation. "All we knew is the bills were sent by the company and we had to pay the bills," he said in an interview.

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