United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
Formation16 November 1945; 78 years ago (1945-11-16)
TypeUnited Nations specialised agency
Legal statusActive
HeadquartersParis, France
Audrey Azoulay
Parent organization
United Nations Economic and Social Council
Websiteen.unesco.org Edit this at Wikidata
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The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) with the aim of promoting world peace and security through international cooperation in education, arts, sciences and culture. It has 194 member states and 12 associate members, as well as partners in the non-governmental, intergovernmental and private sector. Headquartered in Paris, France, UNESCO has 53 regional field offices and 199 national commissions.

UNESCO was founded in 1945 as the successor to the League of Nations' International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation. Its constitution establishes the agency's goals, governing structure, and operating framework. UNESCO's founding mission, which was shaped by the events of World War II, is to advance peace, sustainable development and human rights by facilitating collaboration and dialogue among nations. It pursues this objective through five major programme areas: education, natural sciences, social/human sciences, culture and communication/information. UNESCO sponsors projects that improve literacy, provide technical training and education, advance science, protect independent media and press freedom, preserve regional and cultural history, and promote cultural diversity.

UNESCO's activities have broadened over the years. It assists in the translation and dissemination of world literature, helps establish and secure World Heritage Sites of cultural and natural importance, works to bridge the worldwide digital divide, and creates inclusive knowledge societies through information and communication. UNESCO has launched several initiatives and global movements, such as Education For All.

UNESCO is governed by the General Conference composed of member states and associate members, which meets biannually to set the agency's programs and budget. It also elects members of the executive board, which manages UNESCO's work, and appoints every four years a Director-General, who serves as UNESCO's chief administrator. UNESCO is a member of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group, a coalition of UN agencies and organisations aimed at fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals.



UNESCO and its mandate for international cooperation can be traced back to a League of Nations resolution on 21 September 1921, to elect a Commission to study the feasibility of having nations freely share cultural, educational and scientific achievements. This new body, the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation (ICIC), was created in 1922 and counted such figures as Henri Bergson, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Robert A. Millikan, and Gonzague de Reynold among its members (being thus a small commission of the League of Nations essentially centred on Western Europe). The International Institute for Intellectual Cooperation (IIIC) was then created in Paris in September 1924, to act as the executing agency for the ICIC. However, the onset of World War II largely interrupted the work of these predecessor organizations. As for private initiatives, the International Bureau of Education (IBE) began to work as a non-governmental organization in the service of international educational development since December 1925 and joined UNESCO in 1969, after having established a joint commission in 1952.[citation needed]


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 from 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 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 from April to June 1945, a United Nations Conference for the establishment of an educational and cultural organization (ECO/CONF) was convened in London from 1 to 16 November 1945 with 44 governments represented. The idea of UNESCO was largely developed by Rab Butler, the Minister of Education for the United Kingdom, who had a great deal of influence in its development. 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 Julian Huxley to Director-General. United States Army colonel, university president and civil rights advocate Blake R. Van Leer joined as a member as well. 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 ICIC, in 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 Soviet Union.


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.[citation needed]

In 1956, the Republic of South Africa withdrew from UNESCO saying that some of the organization's publications amounted to "interference" in the country's "racial problems".[citation needed] It rejoined the organization in 1994 under the leadership of Nelson Mandela.

UNESCO's early work in the field of education included a pilot project on fundamental education in the Marbial Valley, Haiti, that started in 1947. This project was followed by expert missions to other countries, including, for example, a mission to Afghanistan in 1949.[citation needed] In 1948, UNESCO recommended that Member States should make free primary education compulsory and universal.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

UNESCO's early activities in culture included the International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia, launched in 1960.[citation needed] The purpose of the campaign was to move the Great Temple of Abu Simbel to keep it from being swamped by the Nile after the 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 of Athens (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.[citation needed] The World Heritage Committee was established in 1976 and the first sites were inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1978.[citation needed] 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[citation needed]) and 2005 (Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions[citation needed]).

An intergovernmental meeting of UNESCO in Paris in December 1951 led to the creation of the European Council for Nuclear Research, which was responsible for establishing the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)[citation needed] later on, in 1954.

Arid Zone programming, 1948–1966, is another example of an early major UNESCO project in the field of natural sciences.[citation needed]

In 1968, UNESCO organized the first intergovernmental conference aimed at reconciling the environment and development, a problem that 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.

UNESCO has been credited with the diffusion of national science bureaucracies.

In the field of communication, the "free flow of ideas by word and image" has been in UNESCO's constitution from its beginnings, following the experience of the Second World War when control of information was a factor in indoctrinating populations for aggression.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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,[citation needed] which produced the 1980 MacBride report (named after the chair of the commission, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Seán MacBride).[citation needed] The same year, UNESCO created the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), a multilateral forum designed to promote media development in developing countries.[citation needed] In 1991, UNESCO's General Conference endorsed the Windhoek Declaration on media independence and pluralism, which led the UN General Assembly to declare the date of its adoption, 3 May, as World Press Freedom Day.[citation needed] Since 1997, UNESCO has awarded the UNESCO / Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize every 3 May.[citation needed]

21st century

UNESCO admitted Palestine as a member in 2011.

Laws passed in the United States after Palestine applied for UNESCO and WHO membership in April 1989 mean that the US cannot contribute financially to any UN organisation that accepts Palestine as a full member. As a result, the US withdrew its funding, which had accounted for about 22% of UNESCO's budget. Israel also reacted to Palestine's admittance to UNESCO by freezing Israeli payments to UNESCO and imposing sanctions on the Palestinian Authority, stating that Palestine's admittance would be detrimental "to potential peace talks". Two years after they stopped paying their dues to UNESCO, the US and Israel lost UNESCO voting rights in 2013 without losing the right to be elected; thus, the US was elected as a member of the executive board for the period 2016–19. In 2019, Israel left UNESCO after 69 years of membership, with Israel's ambassador to the UN Danny Danon writing: "UNESCO is the body that continually rewrites history, including by erasing the Jewish connection to Jerusalem... it is corrupted and manipulated by Israel's enemies... we are not going to be a member of an organisation that deliberately acts against us".

2023 saw Russia excluded from the Executive Committee for the first time, after failing to get sufficient votes.


UNESCO offices in Brasília

UNESCO implements its activities through the five programme areas: education, natural sciences, social and human sciences, culture, and communication and information.[citation needed]

  • UNESCO supports research in comparative education, provides expertise and fosters partnerships to strengthen national educational leadership and the capacity of countries to offer quality education for all. This includes the
    • 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
    • Publication of the Four Pillars of Learning seminal document
    • UNESCO ASPNet, an international network of 8,000 schools in 170 countries

UNESCO does not accredit institutions of higher learning.

The UNESCO transparency portal has been designed to enable public access to information regarding the Organization's activities, such as its aggregate budget for a biennium, as well as links to relevant programmatic and financial documents. These two distinct sets of information are published on the IATI registry, respectively based on the IATI Activity Standard and the IATI Organization Standard.

There have been proposals to establish two new UNESCO lists. The first proposed list will focus on movable cultural heritage such as artifacts, paintings, and biofacts. The list may include cultural objects, such as the Jōmon Venus of Japan, the Mona Lisa of France, the Gebel el-Arak Knife of Egypt, The Ninth Wave of Russia, the Seated Woman of Çatalhöyük of Turkey, the David (Michelangelo) of Italy, the Mathura Herakles of India, the Manunggul Jar of the Philippines, the Crown of Baekje of South Korea, The Hay Wain of the United Kingdom and the Benin Bronzes of Nigeria. The second proposed list will focus on the world's living species, such as the komodo dragon of Indonesia, the panda of China, the bald eagle of North American countries, the aye-aye of Madagascar, the Asiatic lion of India, the kākāpō of New Zealand, and the mountain tapir of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.


UNESCO and its specialized institutions issue a number of magazines.

Created in 1945, The UNESCO Courier magazine states its mission to "promote UNESCO's ideals, maintain a platform for the dialogue between cultures and provide a forum for international debate". Since March 2006 it has been available free online, with limited printed issues. Its articles express the opinions of the authors which are not necessarily the opinions of UNESCO. There was a hiatus in publishing between 2012 and 2017.

In 1950, UNESCO initiated the quarterly review Impact of Science on Society (also known as Impact) to discuss the influence of science on society. The journal ceased publication in 1992. UNESCO also published Museum International Quarterly from the year 1948.

Official UNESCO NGOs

UNESCO has 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:

Abbr Organization
IB International Baccalaureate
CCIVS Co-ordinating Committee for International Voluntary Service
CIPSH International Council for Philosophy and Humanistic Studies (Conseil International de Philosophie et des Sciences Humaines; publishes Diogenes)
CIOFF International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festivals and Folk Arts (Conseil International des Organisations de Festivals de Folklore et d'Arts Traditionnels)
EI Education International
IAU International Association of Universities
IFTC International Council for Film, Television and Audiovisual Communication
ICOM International Council of Museums
ICSSPE International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education
ICA International Council on Archives
ICOMOS International Council on Monuments and Sites
IFJ International Federation of Journalists
IFLA International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions
IFPA International Federation of Poetry Associations
IMC International Music Council
IPA International Police Association
INSULA International Scientific Council for Island Development
ISC International Science Council (formerly ICSU and ISSC)
ITI International Theatre Institute
IUCN International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources
IUTAO International Union of Technical Associations and Organizations
UIA Union of International Associations
WAN World Association of Newspapers
WFEO World Federation of Engineering Organizations
WFUCA World Federation of UNESCO Clubs, Centres and Associations
UNESCO Institute for Water Education in Delft

Institutes and centres

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

Abbr Name Location
IBE International Bureau of Education Geneva
UIL UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning Hamburg
IIEP UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning Paris (headquarters) and Buenos Aires and Dakar (regional offices)
IITE UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education Moscow
IICBA UNESCO International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa Addis Ababa
IESALC UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean Caracas
MGIEP Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development New Delhi
UNESCO-UNEVOC UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training Bonn
ICWRGC International Centre for Water Resources and Global Change Koblenz
IHE IHE-Delft Institute for Water Education Delft
ICTP International Centre for Theoretical Physics Trieste
UIS UNESCO Institute for Statistics Montreal


UNESCO awards 26 prizes in education, natural sciences, social and human sciences, culture, communication and information as well as peace:


Natural Sciences

Social and Human Sciences

  • UNESCO Avicenna Prize for Ethics in Science
  • UNESCO/Juan Bosch Prize for the Promotion of Social Science Research in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence
  • UNESCO-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture
  • UNESCO/International José Martí Prize
  • UNESCO-UNAM / Jaime Torres Bodet Prize in social sciences, humanities and arts


  • Melina Mercouri International Prize for the Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes (UNESCO-Greece)

Communication and Information


Inactive prizes

International Days observed at UNESCO

International Days observed at UNESCO are provided in the table below:

Date Name
14 January World Logic Day
24 January World Day for African and Afrodescendant Culture
24 January International Day of Education
27 January International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust
11 February International Day of Women and Girls in Science
13 February World Radio Day
21 February International Mother Language Day
4 March UNESCO World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development
8 March International Women's Day
14 March International Day of Mathematics
20 March International Francophonie 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 Water Day
5 April International Day of Conscience
6 April International Day of Sport for Development and Peace
15 April World Art Day
23 April World Book and Copyright Day
30 April International Jazz Day
3 May World Press Freedom Day
5 May African World Heritage Day
5 May World Portuguese Language Day
16 May International Day of Light
21 May World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development
22 May International Day for Biological Diversity
5 June World Environment Day
8 June World Oceans Day
17 June World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought
7 July Kiswahili Language Day
18 July Nelson Mandela International Day
26 July International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem
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
9 September International Day to Protect Education from Attack
15 September International Day of Democracy
20 September International Day for University Sport
21 September International Day of Peace
28 September International Day for the Universal Access to Information
5 October World Teachers' Day
6 October International Geodiversity Day
11 October International Day of the Girl Child
13 October International Day for Disaster Reduction
17 October International Day for the Eradication of Poverty
24 October United Nations Day
27 October World Day for Audiovisual Heritage
2 November International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists
3 November International Day for Biosphere Reserves
First Thursday of November International day against violence and bullying at school including cyberbullying
5 November World Day of Romani Language
5 November World Tsunami Awareness Day
10 November World Science Day for Peace and Development
14 November International Day against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property
Third Thursday of November World Philosophy Day
16 November International Day for Tolerance
18 November International International Day of Islamic Art
25 November International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
26 November World Olive Tree Day
29 November International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People
1 December World AIDS Day
2 December World Futures Day
3 December International Day of Persons with Disabilities
10 December Human Rights Day
18 December International Migrants Day
18 December World Arabic Language Day

Member states

 UNESCO member states
 UNESCO member state dependent territory with separate NOC
 UNESCO associates
 UNESCO observers

As of July 2023, UNESCO has 194 member states and 12 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 the United Nations member states (except Israel and Liechtenstein), as well as Cook Islands, Niue and Palestine. The United States and Israel left UNESCO on 31 December 2018, but the U.S. rejoined in 2023.

Governing bodies


As of June 2023, there have been 11 Directors-General of UNESCO since its inception – nine men and two women. The 11 Directors-General of UNESCO have come from six regions within the organization: West Europe (5), Central America (1), North America (2), West Africa (1), East Asia (1), and East Europe (1).

To date, there has been no elected Director-General from the remaining ten regions within UNESCO: Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central and North Asia, Middle East, North Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, South Africa, Australia-Oceania, and South America.

The list of the Directors-General of UNESCO since its establishment in 1946 is as follows:

Directors-General of UNESCO
Image Name Country Term
Julian Huxley  United Kingdom 1946–1948
Jaime Torres Bodet  Mexico 1948–1952
John Wilkinson Taylor  United States acting 1952–1953
Luther Evans  United States 1953–1958
Vittorino Veronese  Italy 1958–1961
René Maheu  France acting 1961; 1961–1974
Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow  Senegal 1974–1987
Federico Mayor Zaragoza  Spain 1987–1999
Koïchiro Matsuura  Japan 1999–2009
Irina Bokova  Bulgaria 2009–2017
Audrey Azoulay  France 2017–Incumbent

General Conference

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

Session Location Year Chaired by from
1st Paris 1946 Léon Blum  France
2nd Mexico City 1947 Manuel Gual Vidal  Mexico
3rd Beirut 1948 Hamid Bey Frangie  Lebanon
1st extraordinary Paris 1948
4th Paris 1949 Edward Ronald Walker  Australia
5th Florence 1950 Stefano Jacini  Italy
6th Paris 1951 Howland H. Sargeant  United States
7th Paris 1952 Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan  India
2nd extraordinary Paris 1953
8th Montevideo 1954 Justino Zavala Muniz  Uruguay
9th New Delhi 1956 Abul Kalam Azad  India
10th Paris 1958 Jean Berthoin  France
11th Paris 1960 Akale-Work Abte-Wold  Ethiopia
12th Paris 1962 Paulo de Berrêdo Carneiro  Brazil
13th Paris 1964 Norair Sisakian  Soviet Union
14th Paris 1966 Bedrettin Tuncel  Turkey
15th Paris 1968 William Eteki Mboumoua  Cameroon
16th Paris 1970 Atilio Dell'Oro Maini  Argentina
17th Paris 1972 Toru Haguiwara  Japan
3rd extraordinary Paris 1973
18th Paris 1974 Magda Jóború  Hungary
19th Nairobi 1976 Taaita Toweett  Kenya
20th Paris 1978 Napoléon LeBlanc  Canada
21st Belgrade 1980 Ivo Margan  Yugoslavia
4th extraordinary Paris 1982
22nd Paris 1983 Saïd Tell  Jordan
23rd Sofia 1985 Nikolai Todorov  Bulgaria
24th Paris 1987 Guillermo Putzeys Alvarez  Guatemala
25th Paris 1989 Anwar Ibrahim  Malaysia
26th Paris 1991 Bethwell Allan Ogot  Kenya
27th Paris 1993 Ahmed Saleh Sayyad  Yemen
28th Paris 1995 Torben Krogh  Denmark
29th Paris 1997 Eduardo Portella  Brazil
30th Paris 1999 Jaroslava Moserová  Czech Republic
31st Paris 2001 Ahmad Jalali  Iran
32nd Paris 2003 Michael Omolewa  Nigeria
33rd Paris 2005 Musa Bin Jaafar Bin Hassan  Oman
34th Paris 2007 Georgios Anastassopoulos  Greece
35th Paris 2009 Davidson Hepburn  Bahamas
36th Paris 2011 Katalin Bogyay  Hungary
37th Paris 2013 Hao Ping  China
38th Paris 2015 Stanley Mutumba Simataa  Namibia
39th Paris 2017 Zohour Alaoui  Morocco
40th Paris 2019

Ahmet Altay Cengizer

41st Paris 2021 Santiago Irazabal Mourão  Brazil
42nd Paris 2023 Simona Miculescu  Romania

Executive Board

Biennial elections are held, with 58 elected representatives holding office for four years.

Term Group I
(9 seats)
Group II
(7 seats)
Group III
(10 seats)
Group IV
(12 seats)
Group V(a)
(13 seats)
Group V(b)
(7 seats)



 Saint Lucia
 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines


 Equatorial Guinea





 Dominican Republic

 South Korea


 Saudi Arabia




 Saint Lucia

 Cook Islands

 South Africa



 United Kingdom
 United States

 Czech Republic

 Dominican Republic

 South Korea
 Sri Lanka

 Burkina Faso
 Côte d'Ivoire

 Saudi Arabia

Offices and headquarters

The Garden of Peace at UNESCO headquarters

The UNESCO headquarters is located at Place de Fontenoy in Paris, France. Several architects collaborated on the construction of the headquarters, including Bernard Zehrfuss, Marcel Breuer and Luigi Nervi. It includes a Garden of Peace which was donated by the Government of Japan. This garden was designed by American-Japanese sculptor artist Isamu Noguchi in 1958 and installed by Japanese gardener Toemon Sano. In 1994–1995, in memory of the 50th anniversary of UNESCO, a meditation room was built by Tadao Ando.

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

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

Carondelet Palace, Presidential Palace – with changing of the guards. The Historic Center of Quito, Ecuador, is one of the largest, least-altered and best-preserved historic centres in the Americas. This centre was, together with the historic centre of Kraków in Poland, the first to be declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO on 18 September 1978.

Partner organisations


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 as a platform for communists and Third World dictators to attack the West, in 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 withdrew 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.


UNESCO has been criticized as being used by the People's Republic of China to present a Chinese Communist Party version of history and to dilute the contributions of ethnic minorities in China such as Uyghurs and Tibetans.


Israel was admitted to UNESCO in 1949, one year after its creation. Israel has maintained its membership since then. In 2010, Israel designated the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem – both in the West Bank – as National Heritage Sites and announced restoration work, prompting criticism from the Obama administration 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 said 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 28 June 2011, UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, at Jordan's insistence, censured[clarification needed] 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 dismantled for safety reasons; Jordan disputed the agreement, saying that it was only signed under U.S. pressure. Israel was also unable to address the UNESCO committee over objections from Egypt.

In January 2014, days before it was scheduled to open, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, "indefinitely postponed" and effectively cancelled an exhibit created by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre entitled "The People, The Book, The Land: The 3,500-year relationship between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel". The event was scheduled to run from 21 January through 30 January in Paris. Bokova cancelled the event after representatives of Arab states at UNESCO argued that its display would "harm the peace process". The author of the exhibition, professor Robert Wistrich of the Hebrew University's Vidal Sassoon International Centre for the Study of Anti-Semitism, called the cancellation an "appalling act", and characterized Bokova's decision as "an arbitrary act of total cynicism and, really, contempt for the Jewish people and its history". UNESCO amended the decision to cancel the exhibit within the year, and it quickly achieved popularity and was viewed as a great success.

On 1 January 2019, Israel formally left UNESCO in pursuance of the US withdrawal over the perceived continuous anti-Israel bias.

Occupied Palestine Resolution

On 13 October 2016, UNESCO passed a resolution on East Jerusalem that condemned Israel for "aggressions" by Israeli police and soldiers and "illegal measures" against the freedom of worship and Muslims' access to their holy sites, while also recognizing Israel as the occupying power. Palestinian leaders welcomed the decision. While the text acknowledged the "importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls for the three monotheistic religions", it referred to the sacred hilltop compound in Jerusalem's Old City only by its Muslim name "Al-Haram al-Sharif", Arabic for Noble Sanctuary. In response, Israel denounced the UNESCO resolution for its omission of the words "Temple Mount" or "Har HaBayit", stating that it denies Jewish ties to the key holy site. After receiving criticism from numerous Israeli politicians and diplomats, including Benjamin Netanyahu and Ayelet Shaked, Israel froze all ties with the organization. The resolution was condemned by Ban Ki-moon and the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, who said that Judaism, Islam and Christianity have clear historical connections to Jerusalem and "to deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site. "Al-Aqsa Mosque [or] Al-Haram al-Sharif" is also Temple Mount, whose Western Wall is the holiest place in Judaism." It was also rejected by the Czech Parliament which said the resolution reflects a "hateful anti-Israel sentiment", and hundreds of Italian Jews demonstrated in Rome over Italy's abstention. On 26 October, UNESCO approved a reviewed version of the resolution, which also criticized Israel for its continuous "refusal to let the body's experts access Jerusalem's holy sites to determine their conservation status". Despite containing some softening of language following Israeli protests over a previous version, Israel continued to denounce the text. The resolution refers to the site Jews and Christians refer to as the Temple Mount, or Har HaBayit in Hebrew, only by its Arab name – a significant semantic decision also adopted by UNESCO's executive board, triggering condemnation from Israel and its allies. U.S. Ambassador Crystal Nix Hines stated: "This item should have been defeated. These politicized and one-sided resolutions are damaging the credibility of UNESCO."

In October 2017, the United States and Israel announced they would withdraw from the organization, citing in-part anti-Israel bias.


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 controversy and criticism. Israel bombed the school in 2008 stating that they develop and store weapons there, which Israel restated in criticizing UNESCO's move.

The 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. The Jewish organization B'nai B'rith criticized the move as well.

Listing Nanjing Massacre documents

In 2015, Japan threatened to halt funding for UNESCO over the organization's decision to include documents relating to the 1937 Nanjing massacre in the latest listing for its "Memory of the World" program. In October 2016, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida confirmed that Japan's 2016 annual funding of ¥4.4 billion had been suspended, although he denied any direct link with the Nanjing document controversy.

US withdrawals

The United States withdrew from UNESCO in 1984, citing the "highly politicized" nature of the organisation, its ostensible "hostility toward the basic institutions of a free society, especially a free market and a free press", as well as its "unrestrained budgetary expansion", and poor management under then Director-General Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow of Senegal.

On 19 September 1989, U.S. Congressman Jim Leach stated before a congressional subcommittee:

The reasons for the withdrawal of the United States from UNESCO in 1984 are well-known; my view is that we overreacted to the calls of some who wanted to radicalize UNESCO, and the calls of others who wanted the United States to lead in emasculating the UN system. The fact is UNESCO is one of the least dangerous international institutions ever created. While some member countries within UNESCO attempted to push journalistic views antithetical to the values of the west, and engage in Israel bashing, UNESCO itself never adopted such radical postures. The U.S. opted for empty-chair diplomacy, after winning, not losing, the battles we engaged in... It was nuts to get out, and would be nuttier not to rejoin.

Leach concluded that the record showed Israel bashing, a call for a new world information order, money management, and arms control policy to be the impetus behind the withdrawal; he asserted that before departing from UNESCO, a withdrawal from the IAEA had been pushed on him. On 1 October 2003, the U.S. rejoined UNESCO.

On 12 October 2017, the United States notified UNESCO that it would again withdraw from the organization, on 31 December 2018; Israel followed suit. The Department of State cited "mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO".

The United States has not paid over $600 million in dues since it stopped paying its $80 million annual UNESCO dues when Palestine became a full member in 2011. Israel and the US were among the 14 votes against the membership out of 194 member countries. When the U.S. announced that it was rejoining the body in 2023, it also pledged to pay all past due payments.

Kurdish–Turkish conflict

On 25 May 2016, Turkish poet and human rights activist Zülfü Livaneli resigned as Turkey's only UNESCO goodwill ambassador. He highlighted the human rights situation in Turkey and the destruction of historical Sur district of Diyarbakir, the largest city in Kurdish-majority southeast Turkey, during fighting between the Turkish army and Kurdish militants as the main reasons for his resignation. Livaneli said: "To pontificate on peace while remaining silent against such violations is a contradiction of the fundamental ideals of UNESCO."

Campaigns against illicit art trading

In 2020 UNESCO stated that the size of the illicit trade in cultural property amounted to 10 billion dollars a year. A report that same year by the Rand Organisation suggested the actual market is "not likely to be larger than a few hundred million dollars each year". An expert cited by UNESCO as attributing the 10 billion figure denied it and said he had "no idea" where the figure came from. Art dealers were particularly critical of the UNESCO figure, because it amounted to 15% of the total world art market.

In November 2020 part of a UNESCO advertising campaign intended to highlight international trafficking in looted artefacts had to be withdrawn, after it falsely presented a series of museum-held artworks with known provenances as recently looted objects held in private collections. The adverts claimed that a head of Buddha in the Metropolitan Museum's collection since 1930 had been looted from Kabul Museum in 2001 and then smuggled into the US art market; that a funerary monument from Palmyra that the MET had acquired in 1901 had been recently looted from the Palmyra Museum by Islamic State militants and then smuggled into the European antiquities market, and that an Ivory Coast mask with a provenance that indicates it was in the US by 1954 was looted during armed clashes in 2010–2011. After complaints from the MET, the adverts were withdrawn.

Products and services

  • UNESDOC Database – Contains over 146,000 UNESCO documents in full text published since 1945 as well as metadata from the collections of the UNESCO Library and documentation centres in field offices and institutes.

Information processing tools

UNESCO develops, maintains and disseminates, free of charge, two interrelated software packages for database management (CDS/ISIS [not to be confused with UK police software package ISIS]) and data mining/statistical analysis (IDAMS).

  • CDS/ISIS – a generalised information storage and retrieval system. The Windows version may run on a single computer or in a local area network. The JavaISIS client/server components allow remote database management over the Internet and are available for Windows, Linux and Macintosh. Furthermore, GenISIS allows the user to produce HTML Web forms for CDS/ISIS database searching. The ISIS_DLL provides an API for developing CDS/ISIS based applications.
  • OpenIDAMS – a software package for processing and analysing numerical data developed, maintained and disseminated by UNESCO. The original package was proprietary but UNESCO has initiated a project to provide it as open-source.
  • IDIS – a tool for direct data exchange between CDS/ISIS and IDAMS

See also

This page was last updated at 2024-02-08 14:17 UTC. Update now. View original page.

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