Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Take Action Now To Assure The USA Funding for UNESCO

The United States Government has withheld its funding from UNESCO since last year. It is now time to take action to encourage the government to fund UNESCO again. Write your Senator and Congressman. Sign this petition.

The Problem

Two parts of U.S. law are of specific concern (US Code - Title 22: Foreign Relations and Intercourse / 22 USC 287 - Sec. 287e. Authorization of appropriations; payment of expenses) :
  • Pub. L. 101-246, title IV, Sec. 414, Feb. 16, 1990, 104 Stat. 70: "(a) Prohibition. - No funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or any other Act shall be available for the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states." (b) Transfer or Reprogramming. - Funds subject to the prohibition contained in subsection (a) which would be available for the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof (but for that prohibition) are authorized to remain available until expended and may be reprogrammed or transferred to any other account of the Department of State or the Agency for International Development to carry out the general purposes for which such funds were authorized." 
  • Pub. L. 103-236, title IV, Sec. 410, Apr. 30, 1994, 108 Stat. 454: "The United States shall not make any voluntary or assessed contribution - "(1) to any affiliated organization of the United Nations which grants full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood, or "(2) to the United Nations, if the United Nations grants full membership as a state in the United Nations to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood, during any period in which such membership is effective."
The General Conference of UNESCO last year admitted Palestine to membership. The United States Government immediately began to withhold payments of assessed and voluntary contributions to the Organization. UNESCO's rules state that the voting privileges of a member state will be revoked if it does not pay its assessed contributions for two years. The General Conference next year will approve the program and budget for UNESCO for the following two years and elect the Director General for the next four years.

The Remedy

The law should be revised to permit the President to waive these provisions if he decides it is in the interests of the United States to do so.

Why the Law Should Be Changed

There are a number of reasons that the law should be changed:
  1. It no longer achieves its original purpose. These provisions were included in the Foreign Relations Authorizations to prevent Palestine from being admitted to membership in United Nations organizations. Last year, in full knowledge of the law, the UNESCO General Conference admitted Palestine. Palestine has announced that it will apply for membership in other UN organizations and experts predict that the applications will be approved.
  2. The provisions as they stand are outdated. They became law in 1990 and 1994. At the time the Soviet Union had broken up, and the United States was exceptionally powerful in world affairs. The world has changed. Other countries and coalitions are more influential in United Nations venues. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is two decades older and views about its possible solutions have changed.
  3. The effects of the provisions may become profoundly contrary to U.S. national interests. If for example the United States were forced to withhold funding from the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, or the World Health Organization by these provisions, especially at times of national security crisis, the national interest could suffer significant damage -- far more than would occur due to admission of Palestine as one of hundreds of members of such an organization.
  4. The provisions are unclear as written. What is the difference in meaning between "the same standing as member states" and "full membership as a state". Does granting of Permanent Observer Status to a state trigger the provision? (Palestine has applied for Permanent Observer status to the United Nations. Indeed, Palestine has been granted a standing invitation to participate as observer in the sessions and the work of the General Assembly and is maintaining permanent offices at Headquarters.)
  5. The interpretation of "the full attributes of statehood" is also subject to uncertainty. (Belarus was admitted to membership in UNESCO in 1954 although at that time it was a constituent republic of the USSR. The United States Government at the time is reported to have argued that if the constituent republics of the USSR were to be admitted as member states, then the states of the USA ought also to be admitted individually.) And perhaps most importantly
  6. The provisions may take the decision on participation in an organization out of the hands of the U.S. government. Not only is it possible for a coalition of foreign nations to elect Palestine to membership in another UN organization, but it might be possible for a single state to make that case that a current member state of an international organization has characteristics that trigger the provisions.
The waiver would of course not delete the power of the Congress to delete funding of any UN family organization from appropriations bills. It would provide the possibility of the U.S. government responding more rapidly to events within the UN system than could the Congress in revision of legislation.

Why the Law Should Be Changes Now

The Administration believes that UNESCO's programs promote U.S. values and interests, and that it is in the national interest to contribute to UNESCO. (So do I.) If the United States does not pay its assessed contributions to UNESCO before the General Conference in October 2013, then it will not be able to vote at that General Conference. Perhaps more important, the voice of the United States will be less influential in UNESCO forums. UNESCO is the main United Nations defending important American values such as Freedom of the Press, equality of educational opportunities for girls, and education that promotes peace and opposes racism. Unfortunately, not all other nations share these values and it is important that the U.S. has a strong voice at UNESCO to defend those values.

Perhaps more important, now that the provision has failed in one venue it will soon be tested in others and may also fail in them. The President should now have the power to act quickly in the national interest in such circumstances.

The Process to Change the Law

There will probably not be a specific vote of the Congress on the proposed amendment. Rather it will be included in a larger bill to appropriate funds, that will probably be approved before March, 2013. Apparently the administration informs the Congress before such bills are voted that even if approved in the Congress, the President will not sign them into law unless they include certain provisions. If the waiver authority is included in the list of required provisions, lacking strong opposition in the Congress, the waiver will probably be incorporated into the bill.

What to do now

I would suggest that you use your social media to tell your friends to support this amendment to the law.

Contact your Representative in the House of Representatives and your Senator and explain your support for this amendment. If you can, explain why UNESCO is important in your state and in your district. Is there a world heritage site there, a geopark, or a bioreserve that benefits from UNESCO networking. If you live in an area at risk of earthquakes or tsumanis, explain why UNESCO's geology and tsumami warning systems matter to your community. If you live in a place in which there are water shortages or subsidence due to depletion of aquifers, explain why UNESCO's hydrology program is important to your community.

Alternatively, if you feel deeply about girls education, explain why UNESCO's program in that field is important to you. If you feel that it is important that people around the world know about the Holocaust, explain why UNESCO's Holocaust education program is critically important. If you are concerned with the loss of biodiversity, or if you love to visit world heritage sites around the world, explain that you value these programs of UNESCO.

Finally sign the petition of the Better World Campaign telling the administration to support UNESCO. You can do so by clicking here!

1 comment:

John Daly said...

I quote from testimony by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice before a committee of the House of Representatives:

Current U.S. law runs counter to U.S. national security interests by enabling the Palestinians to determine whether the U.S. can continue to fund and lead effectively in key UN specialized agencies that help protect Americans. Cutting off funding for agencies such as WHO, IAEA, and WIPO would deal a blow to our efforts on global health, nuclear nonproliferation, and the protection of the interests of American businesses.

In the case of UNESCO, due to irresponsible Palestinian actions, we have withheld our funding for valuable work that supports key U.S. interests. UNESCO’s contributions include promoting freedom of the press and freedom of expression, providing literacy training and supporting tsunami warning systems. The United States has been a leading supporter and financial contributor to UNESCO’s valuable Holocaust education program, second only to Israel. We have also supported UNESCO’s efforts to empower women and girls through education. As former First Lady and UNESCO honorary Ambassador to the UN literacy decade Laura Bush has argued, “achieving the goal of global literacy requires global participation. It requires continued global leadership at every level – from international organizations like UNESCO to political leadership in each nation.”

We believe our membership and participation in UNESCO is valuable and worth supporting. Therefore, the Administration’s budget request includes funding for the U.S. contribution to UNESCO and a statement of intent to work together with Congress to find a solution that would give the Administration the authority to waive restrictions on paying our financial contributions when doing so is clearly in our national interest.