UNESCO Unmoved To Try And End Humanitarian Crisis


By: David Singer

The Director of the Division of Public Information at UNESCO – Mr Neil Ford – has made it clear that UNESCO still refuses to approach the  Imternational Court of Justice (ICJ) for an advisory opinion on the legality of the admission of Palestine as the 195th Member State of UNESCO.

This approach was suggested by me to UNESCO in a detailed submission on 1 December last – following what I considered to be an inadequate response to my concerns first raised with UNESCO on 5 November – 5 days after Palestine’s admission to UNESCO.

On 31 December – and only after considerable prodding – I was advised by Ms Suzanne Bilello – Senior Public Information and Liaison Officer with the UNESCO Office in New York – that UNESCO had no comment to make on my submission.

I then started a petition to in the hope of persuading UNESCO to review its decision.

I wrote to Ms Bilello on 2 January in the following terms:

“I can only take UNESCO’s refusal to comment further to mean that:

  1. UNESCO cannot legally justify the decision to admit Palestine as a full member of UNESCO since a two thirds majority vote of 130 member states required by Article II (2) of the Constitution was not met – as I claimed in my email to you dated 1 December 2011
  2. UNESCO is not prepared to supply me with a copy of the recommendation of the Executive Board to the General Conference to admit Palestine to membership of UNESCO and any reports that formed part of that recommendation or were considered by the Executive Board prior to making that recommendation
If I am mistaken in drawing the above conclusions – please advise me why within the next seven days.”
Ms Bilello did not respond.

Surprisingly however – Mr Ford sent me an email  on 18 January – but it  failed to comment on my detailed submission. Instead Mr Ford sought to justify the legal correctness of a statement issued by UNESCO that I had criticised in various articles and blog posts.

Mr Ford was quite peremptory in again letting me know that UNESCO would provide no further comment on the subject.

Undeterred – I asked him to confirm whether he had seen my detailed submission sent to Ms Bilello and asked him two further questions that required  simple “Yes” or “No” answers.

True to his word he refused to comment. A three -word email was obviously too hard to draft and send for the UNESCO Director of Public Information.

In all of these ongoing discussions the very large Legal Department of UNESCO has remained silent – apparently hoping that its spin doctors in Public Relations will make the legal issues go away.

UNESCO’s conduct seems very hard to fathom.

UNESCO is sailing into uncharted waters as its decision on Palestine has cost – and will cost it – the loss of 22% of its budget in unpaid American dues totalling about $225 million dollars to 2013. Even worse –   loss of funding to the tune of about $85 million per annum is set to continue annually after 2013.

Facing this funding shortfall, UNESCO has halted all new projects, and may be forced to lay off staff.
The Center For Humanitarian Rights and Humanitarian Law (CHRHL) has spelled out the serious consequences of losing that funding:

““UNESCO, which has a budget of $653 million for 2011-2012, works to attain equal education around the world, mobilize support for sustainable development, and encourage intercultural dialogue. As a key player in fulfilling the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG), UNESCO supports and promotes literacy programs across the developing world. The right to education is enshrined in Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights. UNESCO’s Education for All initiative, which seeks to meet the second MDG of universal primary education by 2015, has faced large funding gaps since its inception. UNESCO’s own funding shortfall as a result of the Palestinian vote is likely to exacerbate budgetary constraints on this crucial program. Specific programs that may be affected include: literacy training for Afghan police, an Iraqi curriculum development program, and education infrastructure support in South Sudan.”

UNESCO’S response to this developing crisis has been to sail on its merry way – virtually oblivious to the dangers that lurk just beneath the surface that could cause this giant colossus to run aground.
Whilst busy raising the flag of “Palestine” at UNESCO headquarters in Paris – UNESCO has attempted to recoup this staggering shortfall by:
  • Establishing an Emergency Fund – which has met with little success.
According to CHCRL the Fund is unlikely to cover the initial shortfall of $65 million and UNESCO will be forced to reformulate its future budgetary plans as the US is expected to withold budgeting for the coming years caused by the automatic suspension of the payment of any funds to any UN agency that admitted Palestine to membership of that organization.
  • Attempting to get America to resume its payments to UNESCO by changing its domestic laws – a  forlorn hope according to CHCRL because of a desire in the U.S. to cut government spending.
I believe there is a far more cogent reason this will not happen – especially in an election year.
That reason is US Congressional disapproval of the PLO attempting to unilaterally seek recognition of a Palestinian State outside the negotiations agreed to be conducted between Israel and the PLO under the Oslo Accords and the Bush Roadmap.

Ironically the one lifeline that could possibly end this growing humanitarian crisis -  my suggested approach to the International Court of Justice – continues to remain unconsidered by UNESCO .

If my submission is upheld – and UNESCO has yet to dispute its conclusions – Palestine’s admission to UNESCO will be declared null and void – but the budget short fall will be eliminated and a multitude of UNESCO’s global humanitarian programs will be saved from the funding axe.

If my submission is not upheld – then Palestine’s admission to UNESCO will be confirmed, the meaning of the UNESCO Constitution will be clarified and UNESCO can hold its head high in having attempted to take some positive action to reinstate the loss of 22% of its funding.

I estimate the approach to the ICJ to judicially determine whether Palestine’s admission to UNESCO was legal or not – would cost UNESCO $100000 .

Will UNESCO take the plunge – or just keep rearranging the deckchairs whilst the ship sinks?

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