Irina Bokova regrets loss of US voting rights


Legislation from the 1990s has prevented the United States of America from paying dues to UNESCO since the Organization voted to admit Palestine in 2011. Member States that do not pay dues for two years lose their right to vote in UNESCO’s General Conference. That rule came into effect for the United States today. The Director-General made this statement after the decision was announced:

Address by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO on the occasion of the Loss of Voting Rights

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As UNESCO Director-General, I wish to express regret at the loss of voting rights by the United States.

Universality is critical to UNESCO’s mission, to achieving the ambitions that have guided the Organization since 1945.

The United States helped to craft this mission and these ambitions.

I have said this before, and I wish to reaffirm it now.

Today, I am convinced UNESCO has never mattered so much for the United States – or the United States for UNESCO.

UNESCO’s work to alleviate poverty and promote sustainable development is, I believe, shared by the American people.

I believe UNESCO’s work to advance literacy and quality education as the way to fight ignorance and intolerance is shared by the American people.

I believe our action to counter extremism, racism and discrimination, through education, by safeguarding common cultural heritage, is shared by the American people.

I believe our action to empower girls and women is shared by the American people.

I believe our action to harness new technologies to enhance the quality of learning is shared by the American people.

I believe our action to promote freedom of expression, to develop media, is shared by the American people.

I believe our action for scientific cooperation, ocean sustainability, is shared by the American people.

I believe our action to bolster societies facing emergencies, disasters and conflicts is shared by the American people.

I believe all of our work to protect human rights and dignity as the basis for lasting peace and sustainable development is shared by the American people.

This is the case I have been making since the last session of the General Conference.

Despite the withholding of funding, since 2011, we have led new initiatives and deepened the partnership between the United States and UNESCO, which has never been so meaningful.

It is embodied in our work to safeguard heritage, to support countries in transition,

…in our efforts to teach respect for all,

…in the Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education, launched with then Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2011,

…in the work of Samuel Pisar, Honorary Ambassador and Special Envoy for Holocaust Education,

…in the new International Institute for Peace, created at Rutgers University last year with Goodwill Ambassador Forest Whitaker,

…in our work with the American academic community, the UNESCO Chair on Literacy and Learning at the University of Pennsylvania, the new UNESCO Chair for Genocide Education at the University of Southern California,

…in our interaction with the United States Geological Survey, with the US Army Corps of Engineers, with US professional societies, to advance science and research for the sustainable management of water resources and for geosciences  

…in the celebration of World Press Freedom Day in Washington D.C in 2011, with the National Endowment for Democracy,

…in our cooperation with major private sector companies, with Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Cisco,

…in the promotion of International Jazz Day, to celebrate cultural human rights and cultural diversity on the basis of tolerance and respect.

These are just a few examples.

Our partnership is strong, because it draws on shared values. It is rich, because it pursues common goals.

UNESCO is acting on the frontlines of the world, to create open societies, to uphold human rights and freedom, to support democratic transitions, through education, culture, the sciences, communication and information.

This work has never been more important, and it will continue.

The United States helped shape UNESCO in 1945.

The poet, diplomat and Librarian of Congress, Archibald MacLeish penned the lines that open our Constitution:

Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.

This vision has never been more relevant.

The United States helped inspire the 1972 World Heritage Convention.

This reminds me of the words of the late Russell Train, former Head of the Environmental Protection Agency and founder of the World Wildlife Fund, who did so much to launch the World Heritage Convention --

At this time in history, as the fabric of human society seems increasingly under attack by forces that deny the very existence of a shared heritage, forces that strike at the very heart of our sense of community, I am convinced that World Heritage holds out a contrary and positive vision of human society and our human future.

Ladies and Gentlemen, It is not just World Heritage – UNESCO itself holds out this “positive vision of human society,” against the forces of extremism, against the voices of intolerance.

Writing in 1950, the United States Representative to the 4th session of our General Conference underlined what he called UNESCO’s “tremendous significance” in tilling the ground for peace amongst nations.

This Representative was the political philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr.

So, Ladies and Gentlemen, our task is not over.

To take it forward, to build a 21st century that is more just, peaceful, equitable than the last century -- UNESCO needs the vision and leadership of all its members.

This is why I regret the loss of voting rights by the United States.

And let me be very clear. This is not only about financing.

This is about values.

This is the "smart power" that is in such need today, to lay the foundations for lasting peace and sustainable development.

This is about universality.

For this, we need all voices, all Member States.

It is inconceivable to not have the engagement of all States at this time of rapid change and deepening interdependence in the world, in this era of globalisation and vulnerability.

I will continue to work for the universality of this Organization, for the support of the United States, to the values we share, to the objectives we hold in common, of an effective multilateral order and a more peaceful, more just world.

Thank you.