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United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
Org type Specialized Agency
Acronyms UNESCO
Head Irina Bokova
Director-General of UNESCO
Status Active
Established 16 November 1945
Headquarters Paris, France
The UNESCO flag

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (French: L'Organisation des Nations unies pour l’éducation, la science et la culture; UNESCO; pron.: / juː ˈ n ɛ s k /) is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN). Its purpose is to contribute peace and security by promoting international collaboration through education, science, and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and human rights along with fundamental freedom proclaimed in the UN Charter. It is the heir of the League of Nations' International Commission on Intellectual Cooperation.

UNESCO has 195 Member States (it recently added Palestine in November 2011) and eight Associate Members. Most of the field offices are "cluster" offices covering three or more countries; there are also national and regional offices. UNESCO pursue its objectives through five major programs: education, natural sciences, social and human sciences, culture, and communication and information. Projects sponsored by UNESCO include literacy, technical, and teacher-training programmes; international science programmes; the promotion of independent media and freedom of the press; regional and cultural history projects; the promotion of cultural diversity; translations of world literature; international cooperation agreements to secure the world cultural and natural heritage (World Heritage Sites) and to preserve human rights, and attempts to bridge the worldwide digital divide. It is also a member of the United Nations Development Group.

UNESCO’s aim is "to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information".

Other priorities of the Organization include attaining quality education for all and lifelong learning, addressing emerging social and ethical challenges, fostering cultural diversity, a culture of peace and building inclusive knowledge societies through information and communication.

The broad goals and concrete objectives of the international community—as set out in the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—underpin all UNESCO’s strategies and activities.


UNESCO and its mandate for international intellectual co-operation can be traced back to the League of Nations resolution on 21 September 1921, to elect a Commission to study the question. The International Committee on Intellectual Co-operation (ICIC) was officially created on 4 January 1922, as a consultative organ composed of individuals elected based on their personal qualifications. The International Institute for Intellectual Cooperation (IIIC) was then created in Paris on 9 August 1925, to act as the executing agency for the ICIC. On 18 December 1925, the International Bureau of Education (IBE) began work as a non-governmental organization in the service of international educational development. However, the work of these predecessor organizations was largely interrupted by the onset of World War II.

After the signing of the Atlantic Charter and the Declaration of the United Nations, the Conference of Allied Ministers of Education (CAME) began meetings in London which continued between 16 November 1942 to 5 December 1945. On 30 October 1943, the necessity for an international organization was expressed in the Moscow Declaration, agreed upon by China, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and the USSR. This was followed by the Dumbarton Oaks Conference proposals of 9 October 1944. Upon the proposal of CAME and in accordance with the recommendations of the United Nations Conference on International Organization (UNCIO), held in San Francisco in April–June 1945, a United Nations Conference for the establishment of an educational and cultural organization (ECO/CONF) was convened in London 1–16 November 1945 with 44 governments represented. A prominent figure in the initiative for UNESCO was Rab Butler, the Minister of Education for the United Kingdom. At the ECO/CONF, the Constitution of UNESCO was introduced and signed by 37 countries, and a Preparatory Commission was established. The Preparatory Commission operated between 16 November 1945, and 4 November 1946—the date when UNESCO’s Constitution came into force with the deposit of the twentieth ratification by a member state.

The first General Conference took place from 19 November to 10 December 1946, and elected Dr. Julian Huxley to the post of Director-General. The Constitution was amended in November 1954 when the General Conference resolved that members of the Executive Board would be representatives of the governments of the States of which they are nationals and would not, as before, act in their personal capacity. This change in governance distinguished UNESCO from its predecessor, the CICI, in terms of how member states would work together in the Organization’s fields of competence. As member states worked together over time to realize UNESCO’s mandate, political and historical factors have shaped the Organization’s operations in particular during the Cold War, the decolonization process, and the dissolution of the USSR.

Among the major achievements of the Organization is its work against racism, for example through influential statements on race starting with a declaration of anthropologists (among them was Claude Lévi-Strauss) and other scientists in 1950 and concluding with the 1978 Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice. In 1956, the Republic of South Africa withdrew from UNESCO claiming that some of the Organization’s publications amounted to “interference” in the country’s “racial problems.” South Africa rejoined the Organization in 1994 under the leadership of Nelson Mandela.

UNESCO’s early work in the field of education included the pilot project on fundamental education in the Marbial Valley, Haiti, started in 1947. This project was followed by expert missions to other countries, including, for example, a mission to Afghanistan in 1949. In 1948, UNESCO recommended that Member States should make free primary education compulsory and universal. In 1990 the World Conference on Education for All, in Jomtien, Thailand, launched a global movement to provide basic education for all children, youths and adults. Ten years later, the 2000 World Education Forum held in Dakar, Senegal, led member governments to commit to achieving basic education for all by 2015.

UNESCO’s early activities in the field of culture included, for example, the Nubia Campaign, launched in 1960. The purpose of the campaign was to move the Great Temple of Abu Simbel to keep it from being swamped by the Nile after construction of the Aswan Dam. During the 20-year campaign, 22 monuments and architectural complexes were relocated. This was the first and largest in a series of campaigns including Mohenjo-daro (Pakistan), Fes (Morocco), Kathmandu (Nepal), Borobudur (Indonesia) and the Acropolis (Greece). The Organization’s work on heritage led to the adoption, in 1972, of the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. The World Heritage Committee was established in 1976 and the first sites inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1978. Since then important legal instruments on cultural heritage and diversity have been adopted by UNESCO member states in 2003 (Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage) and 2005 ( Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions).

An intergovernmental meeting of UNESCO in Paris in December 1951 led to the creation of the European Council for Nuclear Research (CERN) in 1954.

Arid Zone programming, 1948–1966, is another example of an early major UNESCO project in the field of natural sciences. In 1968, UNESCO organized the first intergovernmental conference aimed at reconciling the environment and development, a problem which continues to be addressed in the field of sustainable development. The main outcome of the 1968 conference was the creation of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme.

In the field of communication, the free flow of information has been a priority for UNESCO from its beginnings. In the years immediately following World War II, efforts were concentrated on reconstruction and on the identification of needs for means of mass communication around the world. UNESCO started organizing training and education for journalists in the 1950s. In response to calls for a " New World Information and Communication Order" in the late 1970s, UNESCO established the International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems, which produced the 1980 MacBride report (named after the Chair of the Commission, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Seán MacBride). Following the MacBride report, UNESCO introduced the Information Society for All programme and Toward Knowledge Societies programme in the lead up to the World Summit on the Information Society in 2003 (Geneva) and 2005 (Tunis).

In 2011, Palestine became a UNESCO member following a vote in which 107 member states supported and 14 opposed. Laws passed in the United States in 1990 and 1994 mean that it cannot contribute financially to any UN organisation that accepts Palestine as a full member. As a result, it will withdraw its funding which accounts for about 22% of UNESCO's budget. Israel also reacted to Palestine's admittance to UNESCO by freezing Israel payments to the UNESCO and imposing sanctions to the Palestinian Authority, claiming that Palestine's admittance would be detrimental "to potential peace talks".


UNESCO offices in Brasília

UNESCO implements its activities through the five programme areas of Education, Natural Sciences, Social and Human Sciences, Culture, and Communication and Information.

  • Education: UNESCO supports research in Comparative education; and provides expertise and fosters partnerships to strengthen national educational leadership and the capacity of countries to offer quality education for all. This includes the
    • Eight specialized Institutes in different topics of the sector
    • UNESCO Chairs, an international network of 644 UNESCO Chairs, involving over 770 institutions in 126 countries.
    • Environmental Conservation Organisation
    • Convention against Discrimination in Education adopted in 1960
    • Organization of the International Conference on Adult Education ( CONFINTEA) in an interval of 12 years
    • Publication of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report
    • UNESCO ASPNet, an international network of 8,000 schools in 170 countries

UNESCO does not accredit institutions of higher learning.

  • UNESCO also issues public 'statements' to educate the public:
    • Seville Statement on Violence: A statement adopted by UNESCO in 1989 to refute the notion that humans are biologically predisposed to organised violence.
  • Designating projects and places of cultural and scientific significance, such as:
    • International Network of Geoparks
    • Biosphere reserves, through the Programme on Man and the Biosphere (MAB), since 1971
    • City of Literature; in 2007, the first city to be given this title was Edinburgh, the site of Scotland's first circulating library. In 2008, Iowa City, Iowa became the City of Literature.
    • Endangered languages and linguistic diversity projects
    • Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity
    • Memory of the World International Register, since 1997
    • Water resources management, through the International Hydrological Programme (IHP), since 1965
    • World Heritage Sites
  • Encouraging the "free flow of ideas by images and words" by:
    • Promoting freedom of expression, Freedom of the press and Freedom of information legislation, through the International Programme for the Development of Communication and the Communication and Information Programme
    • Promoting universal access to ICTs, through the Information for All Programme (IFAP)
    • Promoting Pluralism and cultural diversity in the media
  • Promoting events, such as:
    • International Decade for the Promotion of a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World: 2001–2010, proclaimed by the UN in 1998
    • World Press Freedom Day, 3 May each year, to promote freedom of expression and freedom of the press as a basic human right and as crucial components of any healthy, democratic and free society.
    • Criança Esperança in Brazil, in partnership with Rede Globo, to raise funds for community-based projects that foster social integration and violence prevention.
    • International Literacy Day
    • International Year for the Culture of Peace
  • Founding and funding projects, such as:
    • Migration Museums Initiative: Promoting the establishment of museums for cultural dialogue with migrant populations.
    • UNESCO-CEPES, the European Centre for Higher Education: established in 1972 in Bucharest, Romania, as a de-centralized office to promote international co-operation in higher education in Europe as well as Canada, USA and Israel. Higher Education in Europe is its official journal.
    • Free Software Directory: since 1998 UNESCO and the Free Software Foundation have jointly funded this project cataloguing free software.
    • FRESH Focussing Resources on Effective School Health.
    • OANA, the Organization of Asia-Pacific News Agencies
    • International Council of Science
    • UNESCO Goodwill Ambassadors
    • ASOMPS, Asian Symposium on Medicinal Plants and Spices, a series of scientific conferences held in Asia
    • Botany 2000, a programme supporting taxonomy, and biological and cultural diversity of medicinal and ornamental plants, and their protection against environmental pollution
    • The UNESCO Collection of Representative Works, translating works of world literature both to and from multiple languages, from 1948 to 2005

Official UNESCO NGOs

UNESCO enjoys official relations with 322 international non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Most of these are what UNESCO calls "operational", a select few are "formal". The highest form of affiliation to UNESCO is "formal associate", and the 22 NGOs with formal associate (ASC) relations occupying offices at UNESCO are:

  1. International Baccalaureate (IB)
  2. Co-ordinating Committee for International Voluntary Service (CCIVS)
  3. Education International (EI)
  4. International Association of Universities (IAU)
  5. International Council for Film, Television and Audiovisual Communication (IFTC)
  6. International Council for Philosophy and Humanistic Studies (ICPHS) which publishes Diogenes
  7. International Council for Science (ICSU)
  8. International Council of Museums (ICOM), whose Director General is currently Mr Julien Anfruns
  9. International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education (ICSSPE)
  10. International Council on Archives (ICA)
  11. International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS)
  12. International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
  13. International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)
  14. International Federation of Poetry Associations (IFPA)
  15. International Music Council (IMC)
  16. International Scientific Council for Island Development (INSULA)
  17. International Social Science Council (ISSC)
  18. International Theatre Institute (ITI)
  19. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)
  20. International Union of Technical Associations and Organizations
  21. Union of International Associations (UIA)
  22. World Association of Newspapers (WAN)
  23. World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO)
  24. World Federation of UNESCO Clubs, Centres and Associations (WFUCA)

UNESCO Institutes and Centres

UNESCO Institute for Water Education in Delft

The institutes are specialized departments of the Organization that support UNESCO's programme, providing specialized support for cluster and national offices.

  • International Bureau of Education (IBE) in Geneva
  • UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) in Hamburg
  • UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) in Paris (headquarters) and Buenos Aires (regional office)
  • UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education (IITE) in Moscow
  • UNESCO International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa (IICBA) in Addis Ababa
  • UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (IESALC) in Caracas
  • UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training in Bonn
  • UNESCO European Centre for Higher Education (CEPES) in Bucharest
  • UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education (UNESCO-IHE) in Delft
  • International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste
  • UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) in Montreal

Official list of UNESCO prizes

UNESCO currently awards 22 prizes in education, science, culture and peace:

  • Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize
  • L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards for Women in Science
  • UNESCO/King Sejong Literacy Prize
  • UNESCO/Confucius Prize for Literacy
  • UNESCO/Emir Jaber al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah Prize to promote Quality Education for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities
  • UNESCO King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa Prize for the Use of Information and Communication Technologies in Education
  • UNESCO/Hamdan Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Prize for Outstanding Practice and Performance in Enhancing the Effectiveness of Teachers
  • UNESCO/ Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science
  • UNESCO/Institut Pasteur Medal for an outstanding contribution to the development of scientific knowledge that has a beneficial impact on human health
  • UNESCO/ Sultan Qaboos Prize for Environmental Preservation
  • Great Man-Made River International Water Prize for Water Resources in Arid Zones presented by UNESCO (title to be reconsidered)
  • Michel Batisse Award for Biosphere Reserve Management
  • UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights
  • UNESCO Prize for Peace Education
  • UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence
  • UNESCO/ International José Martí Prize
  • UNESCO/ Avicenna Prize for Ethics in Science
  • UNESCO/Juan Bosch Prize for the Promotion of Social Science Research in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture
  • Melina Mercouri International Prize for the Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes (UNESCO-Greece)
  • IPDC-UNESCO Prize for Rural Communication
  • UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize
  • UNESCO/Jikji Memory of the World Prize

Inactive UNESCO prizes

  • Carlos J. Finlay Prize for Microbiology (inactive since 2005)
  • International Simón Bolívar Prize (inactive since 2004)
  • UNESCO Prize for Human Rights Education
  • UNESCO/Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences (inactive since 2010)
  • UNESCO Prize for the Promotion of the Arts

International Days observed at UNESCO

  • 27 January: International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust
  • 13 February: World Radio Day
  • 21 February: International Mother Language Day
  • 8 March: International Women’s Day
  • 21 March: International Day of Nowruz
  • 21 March: World Poetry Day
  • 21 March: International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  • 22 March: World Day for Water
  • 20 March: International Francophonie Day
  • 23 April: World Book and Copyright Day
  • 30 April : International Jazz Day
  • 3 May: World Press Freedom Day
  • 21 May: World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development
  • 22 May: International Day for Biological Diversity
  • 25 May: Africa Day / Africa Week
  • 5 June: World Environment Day
  • 8 June: World Oceans Day
  • 9 August: International Day of the World's Indigenous People
  • 12 August: International Youth Day
  • 23 August: International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition
  • 8 September: International Literacy Day
  • 15 September : International Day of Democracy
  • 21 September: International Day of Peace
  • 5 October : World Teachers' Day
  • Second Wednesday in October: International Day for Disaster Reduction
  • 17 October: International Day for the Eradication of Poverty
  • 20 October: World Statistics Day
  • 27 October: World Day for Audiovisual Heritage
  • 10 November: World Science Day for Peace and Development
  • Third Thursday in November: World Philosophy Day
  • 16 November: International Day for Tolerance
  • 25 November: International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
  • 29 November: International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People
  • 1 December: World AIDS Day
  • 10 December: Human Rights Day
  • 18 December: International Migrants Day

Member states

As of October 2011, UNESCO counts 195 member states and 8 associate members. Some members are not independent states and some members have additional National Organizing Committees from some of their dependent territories. UNESCO state parties are most of the United Nations member states (except Liechtenstein), Cook Islands and Niue.

UNESCO's governing bodies


Elections for the renewal of the position of Director-General took place in Paris from 7 September to 23 September 2009. Eight candidates ran for the position, and 58 countries voted for them. The Executive Council gathered from 7 September to 23 September, the vote itself beginning on the 17th. Irina Bokova was elected the new Director-General.

This is the list of the Directors-General of UNESCO since its establishment in 1946:

  1. United Kingdom Julian Huxley (1946–1948)
  2. Mexico Jaime Torres Bodet (1948–1952)
  3. United States John Wilkinson Taylor ( acting 1952–1953)
  4. United States Luther Evans (1953–1958)
  5. Italy Vittorino Veronese (1958–1961)
  6. France René Maheu (1961–1974; acting 1961)
  7. Senegal Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow (1974–1987)
  8. Spain Federico Mayor Zaragoza (1987–1999)
  9. Japan Koïchiro Matsuura (1999–2009)
  10. Bulgaria Irina Bokova (2009– )

General Conference

This is the list of the sessions of UNESCO General Conference held since 1946:

  • 1st session (Paris, 1946) - chaired by Léon Blum (France)
  • 2nd session (Mexico City, 1947) - chaired by Manuel Gual Vidal (Mexico)
  • 3rd session (Beirut, 1948) – chaired by Hamid Bey Frangie (Lebanon)
  • 1st extraordinary session (Paris, 1948)
  • 4th session (Paris, 1949) – chaired by Ronald Walker (Australia)
  • 5th session ( Florence, 1950) – chaired by Count Stefano Jacini (Italy)
  • 6th session (Paris, 1951) – chaired by Howland Sargeant (United States)
  • 7th session (Paris, 1952) – chaired by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (India)
  • 2nd extraordinary session (Paris, 1953)
  • 8th session (Montevideo, 1954) – chaired by Justino Zavala Muñiz (Uruguay)
  • 9th session (New Delhi, 1956) – chaired by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (India)
  • 10th session (Paris, 1958) – chaired by Jean Berthoin (France)
  • 11th session (Paris, 1960) – chaired by Akale-Work Abte-Wold (Ethiopia)
  • 12th session (Paris, 1962) – chaired by Paulo de Berrêdo Carneiro (Brazil)
  • 13th session (Paris, 1964) – chaired by Norair Sissakian (Soviet Union)
  • 14th session (Paris, 1966) – chaired by Bedrettin Tuncel (Turkey)
  • 15th session (Paris, 1968) – chaired by Willian Eteki-Mboumoua (Cameroon)
  • 16th session (Paris, 1970) – chaired by Atilio Dell'Oro Maini (Argentina)
  • 17th session (Paris, 1972) – chaired by Toru Haguiwara (Japan)
  • 3rd extraordinary session (Paris, 1973)
  • 18th session (Paris, 1974) – chaired by Magda Jóború (Hungary)
  • 19th session (Nairobi, 1976) – chaired by Taaita Toweett (Kenya)
  • 20th session (Paris, 1978) – chaired by Napoléon LeBlanc (Canada)
  • 21st session (Belgrade, 1980) – chaired by Ivo Margan (Yugoslavia)
  • 4th extraordinary session (Paris, 1982)
  • 22nd session (Paris, 1983) – chaired by Saïd Tell (Jordan)
  • 23rd session ( Sofia, 1985) – chaired by Nikolaï Todorov (Bulgaria)
  • 24th session (Paris, 1987) – chaired by Guillermo Putzeys Alvarez (Guatemala)
  • 25th session (Paris, 1989) – chaired by Anwar Ibrahim (Malaysia)
  • 26th session (Paris, 1991) – chaired by Bethwell Allan Ogot (Kenya)
  • 27th session (Paris, 1993) – chaired by Ahmed Saleh Sayyad (Yemen)
  • 28th session (Paris, 1995) – chaired by Torben Krogh (Denmark)
  • 29th session (Paris, 1997) – chaired by Eduardo Portella (Brazil)
  • 30th session (Paris, 1999) – chaired by Jaroslava Moserova (Czech Republic)
  • 31st session (Paris, 2001) – chaired by Ahmad Jalali (Iran)
  • 32nd session (Paris, 2003) – chaired by Michael Omolewa (Nigeria)
  • 33rd session (Paris, 2005) – chaired by Musa bin Jaafar bin Hassan (Oman)
  • 34th session (Paris, 2007) – chaired by George N. Anastassopoulos (Greece)
  • 35th session (Paris, 2009) – chaired by Davidson Hepburn (Bahamas)
  • 36th session (Paris, 2011) – chaired by Katalin Bogyay (Hungary)

UNESCO offices

UNESCO headquarter, Paris, France

UNESCO has offices in many locations across the globe; its headquarters are located at Place de Fontenoy in Paris, France, now called the World Heritage Centre.

UNESCO's field offices are categorized into four primary office types based upon their function and geographic coverage: cluster offices, national offices, regional bureaux and liaison offices.

UNESCO field offices by region

The following list of all UNESCO Field Offices is organized geographically by UNESCO Region and identifies the members states and associate members of UNESCO which are served by each office.


Arab States

Asia and Pacific

Europe and North America

Latin America and the Caribbean

Controversy and reform

New World Information and Communication order

UNESCO has been the centre of controversy in the past, particularly in its relationships with the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore and the former Soviet Union. During the 1970s and 1980s, UNESCO's support for a " New World Information and Communication Order" and its MacBride report calling for democratization of the media and more egalitarian access to information was condemned in these countries as attempts to curb freedom of the press. UNESCO was perceived by some as a platform for communists and Third World dictators to attack the West, a stark contrast to accusations made by the USSR in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In 1984, the United States withheld its contributions and withdrew from the organization in protest, followed by the United Kingdom in 1985. Singapore took the opportunity to withdraw also at the end of 1985, citing rising membership fees. Following a change of government in 1997, the UK rejoined. The United States rejoined in 2003, followed by Singapore on 8 October 2007.

Internal reforms

Part of the reason for their change of stance was due to considerable reforms implemented by UNESCO over the past 10 years. These included the following measures: the number of divisions in UNESCO was cut in half, allowing a corresponding halving of the number of Directors—from 200 to under 100, out of a total staff of approximately 2,000 worldwide. At the same time, the number of field units was cut from a peak of 1,287 in 1998 to 93 today. Parallel management structures, including 35 Cabinet-level special adviser positions, were abolished. Between 1998 and 2009, 245 negotiated staff departures and buy-outs took place, causing the inherited $12 million staff cost deficit to disappear. The staff pyramid, which was the most top-heavy in the UN system, was cut back as the number of high-level posts was halved and the "inflation" of posts was reversed through the down-grading of many positions. Open competitive recruitment, results-based appraisal of staff, training of all managers and field rotation were instituted, as well as SISTER and SAP systems for transparency in results-based programming and budgeting. In addition, the Internal Oversight Service (IOS) was established in 2001 to improve organizational performance by including the lessons learned from programme evaluations into the overall reform process. It regularly carries out audits of UNESCO offices that essentially look into administrative and procedural compliance, but do not assess the relevance and usefulness of the activities and projects that are carried out. At least in theory, the evaluation of the relevance and effectiveness of programmes is carried out by the Evaluation Section of IOS, although evidence of using "lessons learned" in programming is less clear and not always free from donor preferences.


Israel was admitted to UNESCO in 1949, one year after its creation. In 1974, UNESCO stripped Israel of its membership on the grounds of alleged damage being done by Israel's archaeological excavations on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. UNESCO defended this decision with two statements in 1974 and 1975, but renewed Israel's membership in 1977, after the United States threatened to withhold $40 million of funding from the organization.

In 2010, Israel designated the Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron and Rachel's Tomb, Bethlehem as National Heritage Sites and announced restoration work, prompting criticism from the United States and protests from Palestinians. In October 2010, UNESCO’s Executive Board voted to declare the sites as "al-Haram al-Ibrahimi/Tomb of the Patriarchs" and "Bilal bin Rabah Mosque/Rachel’s Tomb" and stated that they were "an integral part of the occupied Palestinian Territories" and any unilateral Israeli action was a violation of international law. UNESCO described the sites as significant to "people of the Muslim, Christian and Jewish traditions", and accused Israel of highlighting only the Jewish character of the sites. Israel in turn accused UNESCO of "detach[ing] the Nation of Israel from its heritage", and accused it of being politically motivated. The Rabbi of the Western Wall claimed that Rachel's tomb had not previously been declared a holy Muslim site. Israel partially suspended ties with UNESCO. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon declared that the resolution was a "part of Palestinian escalation". Zevulun Orlev, chairman of the Knesset Education and Culture Committee, referred to the resolutions as an attempt to undermine the mission of UNESCO as a scientific and cultural organization that promotes cooperation throughout the world.

On June 28, 2011, UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, at Jordan's insistence, censured Israel's decision to demolish and rebuild the Mughrabi Gate Bridge in Jerusalem for safety reasons. Israel stated that Jordan had signed an agreement with Israel stipulating that the existing bridge must be razed for safety reasons; Jordan disputed the agreement, saying it was only signed under U.S. pressure. Israel was also unable to address the UNESCO committee over objections from Egypt.

Palestinian Territories

Palestinian Youth Magazine Controversy

In February 2011, an article was published in a Palestinian youth magazine in which a teenage girl described one of her four role-models as Adolf Hitler. In December 2011, UNESCO, which partly funded the magazine, condemned the material and subsequently withdrew support.

Islamic University of Gaza Controversy

In 2012, UNESCO decided to establish a chair at the Islamic University of Gaza in the field of astronomy, astrophysics, and space sciences, fueling much controversy and criticism. Israel's Foreign Ministry expressed shock and criticized the move, and stated that the university supports Hamas (which Israel and other countries designate as a terrorist organization) and houses bomb laboratories for Hamas. The ministry called the university "a known greenhouse and breeding ground for Hamas terrorist."

The university has been linked to Hamas in the past. However, the university head, Kamalain Shaath, defended UNESCO, stating that "The Islamic University is a purely academic university that is interested only in education and its development." . Israeli ambassador to UNESCO Nimrod Barkan planned to submit a letter of protest with information about the university's ties to Hamas, especially angry that this was the first Palestinian university that UNESCO chose to cooperate with. A senior Foreign Ministry official stated, "Before UNESCO gave a chair to the Technion and the Interdisciplinary Centre [institutions in Haifa and Herzliya, respectively] they checked things with a magnifying glass. In Gaza no one checked." The Jewish organization B'nai B'rith criticized the move as well. B'nai B'rith International President Allan Jacobs said, “To so strongly associate an organization meant to promote peaceful goals with a terrorist organization is yet another contributor to the world body’s tarnished reputation in the international community."

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