You may have seen the recent news about Palestine’s petition for full membership into UNESCO, the United Nation’s cultural arm. The bid was approved in a very controversial vote (107 for/14 against) which will likely have far-reaching impact on the US theatre field as well as other areas. The US voted against Palestine and this action was backed by two US laws passed in the early-mid-90s specifying that if Palestine becomes a full member in a UN agency, the US will end funds to that agency .The US membership dues ($70M is paid every 2 years) covers 22% of UNESCO’s overall budget.
The UN meeting calendar is determining which other agencies are approached by Palestine to petition for full membership. The next agency meeting where Palestine is expected to request membership is the World Patents Organization and other meetings on the calendar include the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, and later the Atomic Energy Commission.
The cessation of US funds to UNESCO will impact global programs in literacy, gender equality, clean water initiatives and many others.
However, the withdrawal of funds could also have huge repercussions throughout UN agencies and this is much bigger than just a UNESCO, UN or Palestine issue.
These UN agencies impact our field in ways that are both obvious and lesser known. The World Intellectual Property Organization sets global standards for copyrights. Timothy Wirth, President of the United Nations Foundation recently blogged, “Thanks to the Universal Postal Union, the Chinese will deliver a package with American postage stamps on it and vice versa. Air traffic controllers in Dubai and Dulles speak the same language because of the International Civil Aviation Organization.”
Last week, I attended the UNESCO Commissioners meeting in DC where Esther Brimmer, the Assistant Secretary of State for International Affairs spoke with the group about UNESCO’s alignment with US foreign policy, the positive benefits of multilateral engagement and reinforced Secretary Clinton and President Obama’s commitment to remaining part of all UN agencies and in particular UNESCO.
US Ambassador to UNESCO David Killion informed the US Commissioners that he is working with other State Department officials to encourage US legislators to amend the laws, which are not likely to be repealed. The US dilemma is a practical one – how to continue participation without funds. It is clear that two branches of the government are in disagreement.
As you know, TCG is the home for the US Center of ITI (International Theatre Institute). ITI Worldwide is a network of networks and it is an NGO created by UNESCO with the main office based at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.
TCG/ITI-US disagrees with the politicization of UNESCO. Mutual understanding and peace-building are integral to the work of both UNESCO and ITI, and ITI aims to transcend politics. We agree with the Obama administration that it is essential to engage with our colleagues around the world in positive and meaningful ways.
We encourage you to send messages to Members of Congress urging them to amend the laws and allow US funds to flow again to all impacted UN agencies. Contact the Capitol Switchboard at: 202-224-3121.