Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Questioning UNESCO's Efforts on Culture and Development

Mapping Authority and Survival or Well Being.
Source: R. Inglehart, Modernization and Postmodernization

In a recent paper for the World Bank, Amartya Sen (Nobel Prize laureate in Economics) wrote:
(C)ulture interacts with development in many different ways. It is involved in both the ends and the means of development. But the acknowledgement of the importance of culture should not be translated instantly into ready-made theories of what works, what needs to be cultivated and what must be preserved. There are complex epistemic issues involved in identifying the ways in which culture may or may not influence development, and also deeply ethical and political issue of the social choice involved in accommodating diverse concerns.

Indeed, even the values that are associated with economic development can be interpreted in quite different ways, and may require more than simple admonitions to cultivate this or eschew that.
Indeed, notably in the work of another Nobel Prize winner, Douglas North, economists have recently emphasized the importance of institutions in economic development. That emphasis has come to complement earlier emphases on fixed capital and human capital and on economic policies. The institutions of concern to these economists, such as rule of law and markets, are important aspects of culture, and depend on a variety of cultural values.

Pippa North, a distinguished political scientist, and Ronald Inglehart, one of the founders of the World Values Survey program write, emphasize the importance of culture in democratization. They recently wrote:
A fundamental problem facing the worldwide process of democratization is the continued lack of gender equality in political leadership. The basic facts are not in dispute: Today women represent only one in seven parliamentarians, one in ten cabinet ministers, and, at the apex of power, one in 20 heads of state or government. Multiple factors have contributed to this situation, including structural and institutional barriers. But what is the influence of political culture? Are attitudes toward women as political leaders a significant barrier to their empowerment? In particular, how important is culture as compared with structural and institutional factors? These are the questions that our study seeks to address.
In short, the interaction of culture and development is of critical importance in the world today. Understanding that interaction is important in ameliorating poverty and in the social and economic development of poor nations as well as in managing the transition from the industrial society to the knowledge society.

The Potential Role for UNESCO

UNESCO's middle name is "Culture". Since its creation after World War II, UNESCO has been the lead agency in the United Nations system for culture. It provides a unique forum for intellectual leaders from all over the world to come together to discuss cultural matters. It is uniquely empowered and equipped to be a clearinghouse for information and analysis of the role of culture.

UNESCO has been guided by its member nations for decades to focus its programs heavily on development and on the needs of poor people in poor nations. It has been asked to play an important role in achieving the Millennium Development Goals set forth by the United Nations. At the World Summit for the Information Society, UNESCO was given a leading role in the UN system in catalyzing development of the knowledge society.

UNESCO has played an important role in raising consciousness of the importance of preservation of cultural heritage. The World Heritage Center, perhaps UNESCO's flagship unit, has encouraged UNESCO's member states to preserve and protect hundreds of world heritage sites all over the earth. The Memory of the World program is helping to preserve mankind's documentary heritage, and UNESCO is a partner in the development of the World Digital Library.

UNESCO has negotiated seven Conventions which form the body of international law controling the protection of tangible and intangible cultural property. The looting of art from conquered countries and the distruction of archaeological sites have been greatly reduced since the creation of UNESCO because of UNESCO's ability to bring the nations of the world together to negotiate these treaties.

The aforementioned UNESCO efforts in the protection of the world's cultural heritage illustrate the role that it can play in promoting productive cultural dialog among its 193 member nations. Its Culture of Peace Program is another example of the way in which UNESCO can help its member nations come together to address a critical international issue from a cultural perspective. UNESCO's Anticipation and Foresight Program (adminstered by the Social and Human Sciences program within its Philosophy portfolio) further illustrates the ability of the Organization to serve as a laboratory of ideas, bringing the best thinking from the global intellectual community to the service of UNESCO's member states.

UNESCO does work in the field of Culture and Development. It has been a useful agency in creating knowledge about and interest in emerging fields such as sustainable cultural tourism and cultural industries for developing economies. An independent World Commission on Culture and Development (WCCD) was established jointly by UNESCO and the United Nations in December 1992 and was active in the 1990s. UNESCO played an important role in the Stockholm Intergovernmental Conference on Cultural Policies for Development in 1998.

Still, UNESCO's efforts in the field of culture and development seem less extensive and less effective than those in the field of preservation of cultural heritage. One wonders whether in the 21st Century UNESCO should redouble its efforts to bring together the leaders of the world's inellectual community and serve more effectively as a laboratory of ideas on Culture and Development. Indeed, if UNESCO can catalyze the creation of a consensus on culture-based appoaches to promote social and economic development and on cultural objectives of social and economic development, should it not then embark on a program of capacity development to assist its member states to utilize the knowledge of that consensus?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The New Edition of The UNESCO Courier is Out

British writer Doris Lessing returns to her country of birth, Zimbabwe, and denounces our jaded world. Franco-Ivorian author Véronique Tadjo explains how travels can morph into exile. Spôjmaï Zariâb tells the story of war torn Afghanistan, from her Paris vantage point. Michal Govrin, from Israel, reveals the impassioned dimension of an unending conflict. In the United States, Indian author Kiran Desai questions the fate of belonging to two cultures. Argentine poet María Medrano builds a bridge between the free world and incarceration. All are women between two shores.

© Laurent Giorgetti
"In between" is how these women define

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Laura Bush, Honorary Ambassador for the United Nations' Literacy Decade and a passionate promoter of literacy in the United States, looks forward to working with UNESCO to build strong education programs in each member country. (AP/WWP)

The U.S. State Department provides a website describing its view of U.S. priorities in UNESCO.

UNESCO and the U.S. Department of Education

The U.S. Department of Education's International Affairs Office provides this website describing the importance of UNESCO to the U.S. education community, and describing some useful links as well as a contact person for the office.

UNITWIN Network: Gender, Culture, Development

Dr. Sonia Bahri
UNESCO’s UNITWIN program Chief.

UNESCO's Gender, Culture and People-Centered Development community involves Boston University's Women Studies Program (WSP)! As of mid March 2008, there were 14 UNESCO Chairs plus this UNITWIN Network established in the field of Gender.

Its blog is intended to allow readers to reflect and communicate on important gender issues that are shaping development. BU's Women Studies Program (WSP) directed by Dr. Shahla Haeri explores and analyzes the social, political and economic factors that influence women worldwide. Beginning this year, the Program will be participating with partners in India in UNESCO's university education twinning and networking scheme, UNITWIN.

The UNITWIN Program began in 1992 and aims to share information in all major fields within UNESCO. The goal is to promote North-South and South-South cooperation and communities of practice which will enhance institutions, primarily in developing countries. UNITWIN provides a platform for universities and research institutions to work with UNESCO to support national development efforts.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

McBride and the New International Information Order

It occurred to me on St. Patrick's Day that I might tell you a little about the McBride Report. it was one of the items identified as a cause of the U.S. withdrawal from UNESCO in the 1980s. Sean McBride was from perhaps Ireland's most famous family, and is one of ten Nobel Prize laureates from that island. Yet his name is also associated, incorrectly, with the U.S. withdrawal from UNESCO. Here is the story.

In 1974, the United Nations passed a resolution calling for a New World Information Order. During the 1970's the United Nations was also the site of debates on a New International Economic Order. Both efforts can be seen as related to decolonization and the rise of power of the newly independent states in intergovernmental affairs, as well as their belief that new international orders were required in justice to repair the legacies of poverty and undedevelopment that remained from colonialism.

In 1976, UNESCO’s Director General Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow -- following up the UN resolution, with the approval of the General Conference -- appointed a distinguished committee headed by Sean McBride to report back to UNESCO on the international communications and information order. Given that, with leadership from the United States, communication and information had been included as the "other C" in UNESCO's charter, this was not only reasonable but almost necessary. The committee worked over several years, and submitted its report in time for the UNESCO general conference of 1980, and it was sent on to the member nations for their attention. That report, titled Many Voices, One World, has been increasingly seen as a useful and prescient view of the need to give voice to poor people in poor nations.

The discussion of communications and information at the General Conference was not limited to the recommendations of the McBride Report. The delegates of the emerging developing nations had developed their own elaborate set of recommendations, and the United States and other delegations from developed nations opposed many of the specifics. At last a resolution was adopted by consensus, although the UK delegation stated that they would have opposed it on a vote.

One authority states that the Belgrade declaration affirmed that UNESCO should play a major role in the examination and solution of problems in this domain. "The assembly also agreed on a number of guidelines for the new information order:
1. elimination of the imbalances and inequalities which characterize the present solution;

2. elimination of the negative effects of certain monopolies, public or private, and excessive concentrations;

3. removal of the internal and external obstacles to a free flow and wider and better balanced dissemination of information and ideas;

4. plurality of sources and channels of information;

5. freedom of the press and information;

6. the freedom of journalists . . . a freedom inseparable from responsibility;

7. the capacity of developing countries to achieve improvement of their own situations, notably by providing their own equipment, by training their personnel, by improving their infrastructures and by making their information and communication means suitable to their needs and aspirations;

8. the sincere will of developed countries to help them attain these objectives;

9. respect for each people’s cultural identity and the right of each nation to inform the world public about its interests, its aspirations and its social and cultural values."
The General Conference of UNESCO in 1980 as always conducted a full agenda of business on the organization's educational, scientific and cultural programs. However, the press in the United States covered little but the discussion of the New World Information Order. While the U.S. Delegation report on the General Conference was not especially negative about the NWIO, the issues continued to draw attention from the members of the press media. (Editor's note: I have always suspected that the media objected not only to their perception that UNESCO was enabling state control of media in countries with coercive governments, but that the international press services were also concerned that the call for pluralism which might diminish their oligopoly control of world news. JAD)

UNESCO had been drawing negative comment from other segments of the American Public, especially among conservatives, starting from its creation. The idea of a global forum for discussions between East and West, North and South was not universally accepted during the Cold War. Perhaps the low point in suspicion of UNESCO came during the McCarthy era when seven Americans were forced out of UNESCO's International Civil Service due to allegations of Communist sympathies.

Some Americans had been concerned about the potential impacts of UNESCO educational efforts on American schools. Others had been concerned by the anti-Israeli sentiment expressed by many Arab and developing nations in its fora. Indeed, there remains a segment of the American public that expresses concern about UNESCO's drawing global attention to America's World Heritage sites and biosphere reserves.

UNESCO then as today had a huge mandate and a limited budget. It had been subjected to pressures to improve efficiency, as it is still. There also seemed to be a real cultural divide between Amadou M'Bow, the African Director General, and officials of the conservative Reagan administration. In any case, the combination of factors proved too much, and Elliot Abrams, then Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, announced in 1981 that the United States would withdraw from UNESCO. (Editor's Note: Yes, the same Elliot Abrams who was convicted in 1991 on two misdemeanor counts of unlawfully withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra Affair investigation; he is also the well known neoconservative who is currently Deputy National Security Advisor in the Bush White House, and who appears to have been deeply involved in the decisions on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more generally in Middle Eastern affairs during all of the Bush administration. JAD)

Unfortunately, the old disagreements about the New International Information Order have been unfairly linked in the literature to Sean McBride's name. The McBride Report produced in 1980 is still available on the World Wide Web. In its honor, McBride's name has been given to the The MacBride Round Table on Communication. Had its importance been more fully recognized by the Reagan administration, the Report could have helped the world better respond to the Information Revolution, as well as better respond for a need for information services that would better contribute to international development and poverty alleviation.

The old controversy can little diminish Sean McBride's career as Ireland's most distinguished jurist, as one of the people most responsible for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and as one of the people responsible for Amnesty International. In the United States he is now perhaps best known for the McBride Principles that helped bring the international pressures in support of the peace process in Northern Ireland and for his critically important efforts to end apartheid in southern Africa.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Editorial: The U.S. National Commission for UNESCO

The decentralized agencies of the United Nations System have their own governance. The form of that governance varies from agency to agency. For example, the International Labor Organization has a system in which government, industry and labor are represented from each member nation. UNESCO is unique in that its constitution calls for each member nation to create a national body for the purpose of associating its principal bodies interested in educational, scientific and cultural matters with the work of the Organisation. That element of the constitution was negotiated among the founding nations at the creation of the organization, with strong support from the United States delegation, and has continued in force for six decades.

The UNESCO constitution leaves to each member nation the decision of how best to involve its intellectual communities in its own national commission, but specifically calls for national commissions to serve as advisory bodies to their governments. With the reentry of the United States into UNESCO, the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO was reestablished and chartered under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). The State Department has indeed used the National Commission to provide advice.

Some years ago, Bruce Smith wrote a book (The Advisors) about government advisory committees. One of its most memorable statements was that advisory committees are most effective when the person receiving the advice actually wants that advice and has requested it. That is a most reasonable suggestion. Indeed, most federal advisory committees are created by the agencies that they advise, and the FACA has sunset provisions so that committees created by one official do not live on to bother later officials who do not want their advice.

An exception, however, is where the Congress designates by law that the administration must have an advisory committee, as the Congress has done with the National Commission for UNESCO. In such cases, the existence of the independent advisory committees can be regarded in part as one of the of the checks and balances established in the U.S. system of government. In such cases, the administration is required to obtain and listen to advice whether its political officials want that advice or not.

In most federal advisory committees, the Executive Branch selects the members. The FACA requires that they do so in a fair and impartial manner, but the choice is left to the administration in power. In the case of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, however, the enabling legislation is unique in that it calls for 60 of the 100 members to be named by non-governmental organizations. Indeed, it calls on the National Commission itself to periodically review and, if deemed advisable, revise the list of such organizations designating representatives in order to achieve a desirable rotation among organizations represented.

Thus the Congress in exercising its oversight responsibilities over the Executive Branch has required the Department of State to seek advice from the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO and indeed has established a mechanism by which that Commission itself can assure the representative appointment of the majority of its members.

The FACA, passed into law long after the legislative authority for the National Commission was in place, recognizes that in some cases the provisions it creates for advisory committees in general will need to be adjusted to meet those imposed by laws establishing specific advisory committees; it grants authority to the White House to make such adjustments of its provisions as may be required in the FACA-mandated charters of the individual advisory committees.

When the new administration takes office in 2009, it should revise the charter of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO to assure that the Commission fulfills the roles envisioned in the UNESCO Constitution (and by reference in the National Commission's authorizing legislation). The new administration should convene a special session of the National Commission to revise the list of non-governmental organizations with rights to name members to the National Commission. It should revise the member of the National Commission accordingly. Having done so, the new administration should actively seek and utilize the advice of the Commission in its dealings with UNESCO.

Indeed, more generally, the new administration should return to earlier practices, utilizing the National Commission much more actively as a vehicle for informing the public about UNESCO and to improve liaison among the U.S. educational, scientific and cultural communities, UNESCO's programs, and the National Commissions of other Nations.

John Daly
(The opinions expressed above are mine alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of Americans for UNESCO.)