Saturday, May 31, 2008

Jobs at UNESCO

Americans should check out the job section on the website of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO.

Right now there is a great job opening for the right person. UNESCO is seeking a Deputy Director of the World Heritage Center for Management. This is a new position, created by the organization to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of UNESCO's flagship program.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

News About Americans for UNESCO Board Members

Patrice Lyons is recently returned from Japan, where she was invited to participate in the award of the Japan Prize to her husband, Robert Kahn, co-inventor of the Internet. Check out the photos of the presentation and award banquet with the participation of the Emperor of Japan.

Roger A. Coate has been named the first Paul D. Coverdell Endowed Chair of Policy Studies at Georgia College & State University. To pursue the new challenge, Roger leaves the University of South Carolina where he has served since 2001 as the director of The Richard L. Walker Institute of International Studies.

Rita Colwell last year was presented the National Medal of Science by President Bush.
The award is the nation's highest honor for scientists. (Robert Kahn was an earlier laureate of the National Medal of Technology).

Americans for UNESCO Board Meeting

The Board of Directors met yesterday. The main topic of discussion was a review of last week's meeting of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO. The views expressed of that meeting ranged from negative to positive, reflecting to some degree the different portions of the meeting that were attended by different members of the Board, and to some degree the differing personalities of the Board members themselves.

It was reported that only 44 of the 100 members of the National Commission were observed at the meeting, and some of them did not attend for all of the two day meeting. There was general agreement that the cultural events scheduled around the National Commission meeting were excellent, and that the presentation at the Commission on the U.S. funded project to develop museums in developing countries was excellent and widely appreciated.

It was recognized that Ambassador Oliver had achieved considerable skill in her diplomatic role leading the U.S. permanent delegation to UNESCO, but the State Department presentation was criticized as not having adequately reviewed the success of the delegation in encouraging UNESCO in directions that would better achieve U.S. policy objectives in international education, science, culture, and communications, nor in the more fundamental effort to secure the defenses of peace in the minds of men.

There was apparent agreement among the Board members that the National Commission still was not fulfilling the mandate of its legislation, and that its success in providing advice on UNESCO affairs to the Government was at best mixed. The session of the National Commission on the future of the Commission itself was seen as useful, while that on the UNESCO budget priorities was criticized.

The meeting also reviewed the course on UNESCO that was offered last semester at George Washington University, and the initiative of students from that class to create a student club at the university focusing on UNESCO.

A brief report was made on the online presence of Americans for UNESCO. The most relevant portion of which was the evolution of traffic on the Americans for UNESCO supported blogs, which is shown week by week in the following graph.
The resignation of two long time members of the Board, Sid Passman and Irv Lerch, was noted with regret. Both have found it impossible to continue devoting time to Board activities due to personal reasons. They will be missed!

The Board approved modest changes in the Bylaws for Americans for UNESCO, and appointed committees to work on support for the Man and the Biosphere Program and to draft with the aid of the Advisory Committee a paper for the transition team to begin working on the new Administration after the November 4th election.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Thinking About Cultural Property

Edward Rothstein has a review in today's New York Times of the book Who Owns Antiquity?: Museums and the Battle over Our Ancient Heritage by James Cuno. The review begins:
To what culture does the concept of “cultural property” belong? Who owns this idea?

It has, like much material property in the last 50 years, often changed hands. And in doing so, it has also changed meanings and grown in importance. It now affects the development of museums, alters the nature of international commerce and even seems to subsume traditional notions of property.

It was brought to modern prominence in 1954 by UNESCO as a way of characterizing the special status of monuments, houses of worship and works of art — objects that suffered “grave damage” in “recent armed conflicts.” In its statement Unesco asserted that such “cultural property” was part of the “cultural heritage of all mankind” and deserved special protection.

But the framers of that doctrine with its universalist stance would hardly recognize cultural property in its current guise. The concept is now being narrowly applied to assert possession, not to affirm value. It is used to stake claims on objects in museums, to prevent them from being displayed and to control the international trade of antiquities.
The so called tragedy of the commons recognizes that if no one owns a resource, then there is little incentive to manage it well. We often institutionalize property rights to protect such resources. (An alternative is to retain the resource in a commons, but to institutionalize systems to manage that common.)

The tangible cultural property to which the Rothstein-Cuno analysis applies is movable -- paintings, sculptures, etc., the antiquities we often associate with museums. Of course it was not UNESCO that first treated these objects as property. Kings and the wealthy did so for millenia. UNESCO helped recognize the concept of "cultural property", reflecting the fact that such objects often have transcendental value within a specific culture. Thus a religious artifact may have huge value among the adherents of the religion involved and little value to others.

UNESCO has also helped recognize the concept of World Heritage. Thus everyone has a legitimate interest in some objects of transcendental beauty and cultural importance, such as the Mona Lisa or the contents of Tutankhamun's tomb. The crux of the issue addressed by Rothstein and Cuno is the property that is both claimed by specific cultural groups and as broader world heritage.

It would seem that the custodian of any cultural property or item of world heritage should have a responsibility to protect that property and pass it on to future generations. The owners of a cultural property or item of world heritage would also seem to share that responsibility, and indeed the responsibility to allow others to act as custodians of such objects only if they can realistically guarantee to safeguard the property.

So who are the owners of cultural property. The oldest statues in the world were found in what is now Jordan, and date back some 8,000 years. Jordan is a historic crossroads and modern Jordanians have little in common with the folk who lived i that geographic area 8,000 years ago. So, one may ask, why should they have ownership of those ancient statues? In this case the answer is clear. They have them, the artifacts were found in their land under their law, and the Jordanians ascribe cultural value to them as well as recognizing their status as world heritage.

The situation is not so clear when a piece of cultural property found in one country is located in another, both claiming legitimate ownership. Greek antiquities in the United Kingdom or Egyptian antiquities in the United States come to mind. UNESCO has developed conventions that help to allow the parties to such disputes to negotiate their solution, or at least adjudicate them. They don't always work, but those conventions represent a major advance over the anarchy of the past. Still, Rothstein and Cuno suggest that often countries have gone too far in seeking to recognize the rights of cultural property ownership based on things being found in areas now occupied by the claiming party.

In last week's meeting, the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO recommended that UNESCO institutionalize mechanisms that would allow long term loans of cultural property from one nation to another without the transfer of ownership. There have been loans of museum exhibits for many years, but the new mechanisms would be for a decade or more. The new mechanism would allow sharing of experience of world heritage, while recognizing ownership rights to cultural heritage. Sounds good to me!

John Daly
(The ideas expressed in this posting are mine alone, and don't necessarily reflect those of any organization.)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures of the National Museum

Members of the National Commission for UNESCO were treated to a preview of a wonderful exhibit at the National Gallery of Art (East Wing) that will be available to the public starting next week.

It had been thought that over the decades of war and Teliban domination of Afghanistan the archaeological treasures that had been excavated during the 20th century had been lost. The building of the National Museum had been destroyed.

Amazingly, those treasures had been hidden for many years, and survived intact. Unfortunately, the restored museum still does not have the security systems needed to protect the treasures, especially given the current level of violence. Therefore the decision was made to allow the greatest treasures of the country to circulate through Europe and the United States in this great exhibit.

The exhibit combines the findings of a great deal of archaeological research with understanding of Afghanistan's history. The artifacts are themselves often of the greatest possible artistic value. Under any circumstances the survival of gold, ivory and glass objects of such beauty for thousands of years would be amazing. For Afghanistan their survival appears miraculous.

This exhibit will revise your understanding of Afghanistan and Central Asia!

UNESCO, Energy and Climate Change

On Monday, James Connaughton, the head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, spoke to the members of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO on the topic of "Energy and Climate Change". He stated that global warming and increased concentration of greenhouse gases are both occurring, and that scientists generally agree that mankind is contributing substantially to the buildup of greenhouse gases, and thus to global warming.

He projected the very desirable economic growth in the developing world, and noted the very major difficulty that if the world is to hold global warming to acceptable levels, the developing countries are going to have to make major changes in technology, since their current energy and agricultural technologies are "heavy" in the sense that they produce a lot of greenhouse gas per unit economic production. Even were the developed countries to achieve huge improvements in emissions, that effort would not be enough; were the improvements in developed nations emissions to be achieved by the transfer of greenhouse-gas intensive production activities to developing countries without the transfer to clean technologies in those developing countries, there would be no net gain for the reduction of global warming.

Mr. Connaughton also emphasized that the current emphasis on global climate change had had the unfortunate side effect of diverting the attention of policy makers from other environmental problems, such as water and air quality (and I would add desertification, loss of tropical forests, pollution, etc.)

Mr. Connaughton stressed that if we are to succeed in limiting climate change (and other environmental problems), the key limitation will be political will in developing nations, since we have adequate technology for the job. He also said that a critical problem was a major lack of understanding of the size and nature of the task before mankind.

In short, there is a major educational challenge for the world, to build the environmental literacy and numeracy needed to generate the political will to solve the problems leading to global warming and environmental deterioration. The effort is urgently needed, and must continue for generations.

Surprisingly, given that the talk was made to the National Commission for UNESCO, Mr. Connaughton did not make the further inference publicly that UNESCO was a logical entity to lead in the educational effort, building that public understanding and support. Obviously, UNESCO is the lead agency within the United Nations system for both education and communications and information. It leads in the natural science programs needed to develop appropriate understanding of the causes and remedies of global warming and other environmental problems, and the social science leadership needed to measure the success in changing knowledge and understanding of environmental problems.

If the White House really believes Mr. Connaughton's presentation, as does the author of this posting, then it should support a serious effort to expand UNESCO's program focusing on the environmental sustainability of economic development.

I spoke briefly with Ambassador Oliver after the talk, and she emphasized that that kind of an initiative would be a very appropriate one for a public-private cooperative approach. Voluntary contributions, both financial and in kind, would be a powerful stimulus to the development of such an effort on the part of UNESCO.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Obituary: William Lowenthal

William Lowenthal, 87, a Foreign Service officer died May 6 at Inova Fairfax Hospital. He had cancer. Dr. Lowenthal retired in 1981 as economic development officer for the U.S. delegation to the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Paris. Bill Lowenthal was a good friend and colleague to Americans for UNESCO.

Editorial: The U.S. National Commission for UNESCO

National Commissions for UNESCO are an important innovation, written into the charter of UNESCO after considerable debate; the U.S. National Commission is similarly chartered in U.S. law. The Commissions are intended to assure that the intellectual communities of the member nations and not just their governments, are fully involved in UNESCO. Sixty years ago, the U.S. National Commission was a powerful and active organization, with a vigorous program promoting knowledge and understanding of UNESCO in the United States. It is not that now, and this year's annual meeting appeared to involve much less than half its members.

This editorial addresses the advisory function of the National Commission. That is an important function, and indeed the Commission is regulated under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). The advisory function is difficult because UNESCO has a very complex program, involving 193 member nations, focusing on intellectual changes that are difficult to measure and to benchmark. It is also difficult because the Commission constantly changing membership of 100 people meets infrequently and its members are generally strangers to one another. After the long absence of the United States from UNESCO, there are relatively few Americans who really understand UNESCO and its programs.

For some 20 years I was involved in managing the provision of scientific advice to government agencies. That experience makes me recognize that people when asked for advice will almost always provide it, but if they are poorly chosen and the process poorly organized, the advice may well be of poor quality. Advisors must be experts. They must be asked the right questions, and be given the time and resources to respond rationally to those questions. The management of scientific advisory committees is a highly skilled activity for agencies such as the Office of the Science Advisor, the National Academies, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation.

The State Department needs not only scientific advice, but other forms of professional advice to deal with the complex programs of UNESCO. Still, many of the lessons learned in the provision of scientific advice must be relevant also to provision of professional advice on cultural and educational activities of UNESCO. The State Department has not assigned experts in the management of advisory services to that function in the case of the National Commission for UNESCO, and the staff of the Commission's secretariat, while working hard and imaginatively, is still learning on the job.

The operation of the National Commission's Natural Science subcommittee provides an example that should be replicated in its other subcommittee. That subcommittee works through specific subcommittees on hydrology, oceanography, and geology (with another on man and the biosphere in abeyance). These in turn are not limited to members of the National Commission, but include specialists in the specific programs and their international dimensions, often with decades of experience working with UNESCO. When the Natural Science subcommittee meets, it has the chairs of those subcommittees to present their detailed considerations of the issues at hand, and it is only left to review and interrelate those recommendations. (It would have been better had those subcommittees also been asked to review the budget priorities and make recommendations.) The geologists, oceanographers, and hydrologists participating in these efforts are not only generally experienced in the provision of advisory services within their disciplines, but they also often know each other and form a true rather than a nominal group, able to communicate via phone and email during the year (rather than briefly once a year in group). The subcommittees are also small, allowing real discussion.

Even the operation of the Natural Science subcommittee could be improved, for example by the resuscitation of the Man and the Biosphere Committee and the creation of a Basic Science and Engineering specific science subcommittee. Moreover, the subcommittee reports could be provided to the members of the Natural Science subcommittee in writing before their meeting.

The other subcommittees of the National Commission appear to be in need of reform and rethinking. The education sector is UNESCO's lead sector, and faces a huge and complex task involving primary, secondary and tertiary education, as well as non-formal, literacy, and vocational education, and all of the educational policy and management functions. Comparably, there are few experts who can span cultural areas ranging from museums to cultural aspects of democratization, economic development, and the search for peace.

The 100 person National Commission when meeting as a committee of the whole is a very unwieldy entity. It requires a very strong Chair. Currently the Commission is chaired by a political appointee in the State Department. Compare that with the original chair, who was Milton Eisenhower, the brother of President Eisenhower, who was himself the president of a major university and a recognized leader of the American educational community.

Similarly, to increase effectiveness of the larger Commission, there would have to be a very strong Executive Committee that meets frequently. It would seem likely that the members of that committee should be elected by the Commission itself, rather than selected by the bureaucracy, and perhaps based on nominations by the sectoral subcommittees.

The rethinking of the processes of the National Commission should be one of the first tasks of the new administration that will take office in 2009. While the structure of the Commission is defined by law, the Commission charter must be renewed every two years under the conditions set by the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Fortunately the FACA recognizes that flexibility is required in the structuring of advisory services, especially when they are specified in legislation as well as by the needs of the bureaucracy. Thus the next rechartering of the Commission would be an important opportunity for reform.

The most important factor in the success of an advisory committee is a client who actively seeks that advice, and takes it seriously. It is important that the new administration place people in charge of its relations with UNESCO who fit that description.

John Daly
(The opinions expressed in this editorial are mine, and do not necessarily reflect those of Americans for UNESCO or any other organization.)

The Meeting of the National Commission

The U.S. National Commission for UNESCO completed its two day annual meeting yesterday. The meeting was marked by exceptional cultural activities, including a reception in Blair House and a preview of the Treasures of Afghanistan exhibit that is soon to open in the U.S. National Gallery of Art. There was also a wonderful presentation of a U.S.-funded, UNESCO-implemented project to develop museums in developing countries including presentations by directors of museums in Mali and Guatemala. The meeting was topped off by a reception in the Castle building of the Smithsonian, hosted by the Smithsonian Institution and Americans for UNESCO.

The Commission considered its own membership and organization, encouraging organizations that so desired to submit recommendations on the Commission process to the State Department. It also made recommendations on the priorities for the program purposes and their major lines of action, which will be taken into account in the development of the budget for 2009-2010,

The State Department should publish a summary of the meeting and its recommendations on its National Commission website in the near future.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Comment on the UNESCO Budget and U.S Policy

The UNESCO budget is divided into two parts. The regular budget, which is approved every two years by the General Conference, implements the six year mid term strategy of the organization, and is just over US$ 300 million per year. That budget is funded through assessed contributions from the member states, and the United States funds 22 percent. The other part of the budget consists of voluntary contributions from the member states, and is estimated at some US$200 million per year. The United States contributes less than one million dollars a year in voluntary contributions, or less than one half of one percent.

Think about the voluntary contributions. They are not added to the general fund, but rather fund things that the contributing country negotiates with the UNESCO secretariat. Thus they do not represent the consensus budget of the 193 member states, but rather are modifications of that consensual budget desired by a single country.

I can only suppose that the secretariat is likely to feel that the regular budget is cash in hand, but inadequate to their needs, and is likely to bend over backward to make the government offering voluntary contributions happy.

The budget of UNESCO is far too small as compared with the challenges before it. From the point of view of the United States, there are many things we want done that UNESCO can better accomplish than could our bilateral programs. Moreover, UNESCO leverages U.S. contributions with funding from other donors as well as from host countries. The U.S. contribution, less than US$70 million per year seems quite a bit, unless you compare it with other figures; my local school board has a budget of $2.2 billion per year for public schools in this one county. UNESCO seeks to improve primary, secondary and tertiary education worldwide. Or compare that budget with the one-trillion dollars that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost. Could those wars have been avoided had the educational systems and communications been more supportive of Western values over the past several decades? I think it would have been worth the bet.

So, were the United States to add say $30 million in voluntary contributions per year to UNESCO's budget, that sum would be affordable and would make UNESCO a much more effective multilateral tool of U.S. foreign policy. Such a contribution would more than pay for itself in terms of security for this country, economic benefits from better development of our economic partners, accomplishment of our humanitarian objectives, improved opinions of the United States abroad, and progress on global environmental problems.

John Daly
(The opinion expressed above is mine, and does not necessarily represent that of Americans for UNESCO or any other organization.)

The National Commission Meeting

Today was the first day of the two day meeting of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, held in the Conference Center of Georgetown University. Some 40 Commissioners attended, with a comparable number of other observers. The morning was taken up by informative presentations by State Department officials, focusing on the role of intergovernmental organizations in U.S. foreign policy and the efforts of the State Department at UNESCO over the past year.

There was an interesting talk by James Connaughton, the chief of the White House Office of Environmental Quality, on international energy and climate change policies.

The afternoon was devoted to breakout sessions on the five major programs of UNESCO.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

UNESCO and the earliest oil paintings

Source: "Random Samples", Science, May 2, 2008.

Quoted in full:
Buddhist artists in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, may have painted with oils centuries before European Renaissance painters developed the technique.

A team led by Marine Cotte at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France, has analyzed tiny samples of paintings sent by a UNESCO conservation team from a site where the Taliban destroyed two giant Buddha statues in 2001. Initial scans with ultraviolet light led researchers to suspect the presence of oil, and "we have confirmed it," says Cotte. Twelve of 50 murals depicting colorful Buddhas and mythical creatures, painted in caves behind the statue niches, included pigments bound in plant oils. Oil offers "more freedom" to artists, says Cotte, as it doesn't set instantly like the gypsum or calcium salt pigments also used in the caves.

Helen Howard of the National Gallery in London says European oil paintings date back to the 12th century, but whether oil was used earlier isn't known because "analysis hasn't often been carried out on very early paintings." UNESCO team leader Yoko Taniguchi of the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Tokyo said in a statement that ancient Romans and Egyptians were known to use drying oils, but only as medicines and cosmetics. Thus, the team writes in April's Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry, the Afghan samples could be the "oldest example of oil paintings on Earth."

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Saturday, May 03, 2008

UNESCO and Knowledge Sharing

UNESCO has published a set of five short documents describing and assessing its own efforts in knowledge sharing:

"World Heritage List: Unesco Delegation To Arrive In Istanbul"

Source:, April 20, 2008.

A delegation from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization`s (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee will pay a visit to Istanbul in the second week of May.

The delegation will observe all corners of Istanbul and hold talks with Turkish authorities. It will then prepare a report that would either keep Istanbul in the list of World Heritage sites or take it out......

The World Heritage Committee had discussed the situation in Istanbul at its meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania, two years ago. It had proposed certain measures to be taken by Istanbul city and granted a timeframe until 2008 to remedy all deficiencies.

Annual Meeting of the U.S. National Commission For UNESCO

The U.S. National Commission for UNESCO will host its Annual Meeting on Monday, May 19 and Tuesday, May 20 at the Marriott Georgetown University Conference Hotel in Washington, DC (3800 Reservoir Road, NW).

The Commission will have a series of informational plenary sessions and subject-specific committee and thematic breakout sessions on Monday, May 19 and the morning of Tuesday, May 20. The Commission will meet in plenary session to discuss its final recommendations on Tuesday, May 20, 2007, from 1:00 p.m. until 2:30 p.m.

The meetings will be open to the public, and those who wish to attend should contact the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO (202-663-0026; no later than Thursday, May 15 for further information about admission, as seating is limited.

New Edition of the UNESCO Courier Online

© UNESCO/Aleksandar Dzoni-Sopov

Information: a game of hide and seek

“As long as I live, I will continue to write and writing will keep me alive.” says Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho Ribeiro (45), laureate of this year’s UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize. Like many of her colleagues, she lives under constant threat, but has learned to master fear; she fights for freedom of expression and against the monopolization of the Medias. The exclusive interview she granted us introduces several of the subjects covered in this month’s issue. They range from retention of information to censorship by killing and include tactics aimed at breaching press freedom and the impunity of crimes perpetrated against journalists. (More)