UNESCO asks States considering withdrawal to 'reconsider their position'
An appeal to member States who have withdrawn or are considering withdrawal from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to "reconsider their position" was made at the conclusion of the organization's twenty-third General Conference.
During the five-week session (Sofia, Bulgaria, 8 October-9 November), considerable concern was expressed in the debate over the consequences of withdrawal -- particularly the financial aspects--and the expressed intentions of some States to withdraw if reforms were not made. The United States, which had provided 25 per cent of the budget, withdrew from UNESCO in 1984; in December 1985, the United Kingdom and Singapore withdrew.
The Conference approved a zero-growth budget for 1986-1987 of $307,223,000. The original budget of $398,468,000 was cut by 25 per cent to compensate for the loss of the United States contribution. The withdrawal of the United Kingdom and Singapore would mean a further reduction of 4.8 per cent ($17,519,040) and 0.1 per cent ($364,980), respectively.
Among the more than 100 decisions adopted by the General Conference was one which confirmed the "observer status" accorded to the United States by UNESCO's Executive Board in early 1985. The Conference also decided that any State that withdraws from the organization may, on request, be granted the observer facilities provided for in the case of non-member States.
In examining such requests, the Board was asked to take into account "the interests of the organization, and the need to encourage its universal vocation, the willingness shown by the State concerned to remain in contact with the organization with a view to co-operating with it; and the willingness shown by the State concerned to defray the cost of the facilities granted to it".
The Executive Board was also to appoint a group in 1986 to discuss with the United States the question of its financial contribution. The Board will specify the financial obligations of a Member State which withdraws from the organization in the middle of a two-year budgetary period. It could, if it chose to do so, request an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice for an interpretation of UNESCO's constitution on the matter.
The Conference decided that a State that withdraws from the organization loses the privileges of membership in UNESCO, in particular its staff quota, and that in recruitment of new staff, nationals of member States should always have priority over nationals of non-member States. The composition of the staff should continue to be based on the constitutional requirements of the "highest standards of integrity, efficiency, and technical competence" and should reflect as wide a geographical distribution as possible.
The Conference recognized that if a number of States which have significant quotas were to withdraw, the staff composition could show a disproportionate number of staff from non-member States to the disadvantage of qualified nationals of States which are members of the organization. It invited the Director-General to study further means of resolving that "extraordinary situation" and to report on it to the Executive Board in 1986.
When considering renewal of expired staff contracts, UNESCO's Director-General should take into account the need to ensure as equitable a geographical distribution as possible within the secretariat, the Conference decided. In the case of the need for staff reductions, that should be based on existing staff rules, while respecting the criterion of equitable geographical distribution.
After the Conference, the Director-General, Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow, said that no staff member would be dismissed or shifted to another job until consultative bodies he had set up had completed a "thorough review" of the staffing situation. Some 150 to 200 posts would have to be abolished due to a reduction in the budget as a result of the withdrawal of member States, he indicated.
Major decisions taken during the session--most of them by consensus--related to: a new world information and communication order; disarmament and human rights; UNESCO's budget for 1986-1987; reforms within UNESCO; an International Literacy Year; and a World Decade for Cultural Development.
The General Conference, UNESCO's main governing body, meets every two years. At this session, 154 of UNESCO's 158 members attended.
M'Bow statement: Director-General M'Bow said that speeches made during the Conference had "borne witness" to a renewed commitment by the international community to UNESCO's principles and aims, and that this "act of faith" was based on unanimous recognition of what UNESCO had achieved.
Stressing "unreserved support" for the proposed programme on 'Education for All", Mr. M'Bow said that illiteracy could be conquered by the end of the century if the political will to do so existed. He asked "Who can stimulate this will better than UNESCO?"
Referring to how UNESCO's future might be shaped, the Director-General spoke of the need for a return to the "spirit" of the founders, when scientists and scholars rather than representatives of States were elected to the Executive Board. That would reduce political tensions and ease UNESCO's task. He recalled that until 1954, intellectuals had been elected in their personal capacity to the Board before the constitution was amended to require that Board members also be representatives of their Governments.
While he had no power to amend the constitution, he would pay close attention to a move in that direction by member States, he said.
General debate: During debate, several speakers felt that the International Court of Justice should not be referred to for a decision regarding the United States' financial obligations to UNESCO. They argued that nothing should be done to create obstacles to a return to universality in UNESCO. Other speakers pointed out that if the question were not addressed, there was a risk that rich countries might leave UNESCO and ask for observer status, leaving poorer countries to pay. A few speakers wanted continued negotiations with withdrawing States.
Some speakers expressed reservations about specific activities of UNESCO, including those concerned with a new world information and communication order, and with peace, international understanding, human rights and the rights of people, which they considered "over-politicized" or outside UNESCO's field of competence. Several speakers felt that UNESCO should not be a forum to discuss disputes over detente or disarmament.
Other speakers rejected charges of over-politicization, stressing that the organization should not be a bystander, indifferently watching how mankind's destinies would be decided. At least one speaker said that politicization of an intergovernmental organization was "inevitable".
Speakers welcomed the large number of reforms which were being implemented to improve UNESCO's functioning. Further efforts were urged to concentrate the organization's programme activities, to streamline its management and to achieve maximum economy in its budget. A few States wanted more emphasis on UNESCO's work in literacy and in extending primary education.
Some speakers felt the media had failed to report and understand reforms taking place in UNESCO over the last year and a half. Delegates were urged to explain to the world that UNESCO had never passed a resolution which could substantiate the "allegation" that the organization proposed to license journalists and censor the press.
Other nations, referring to "insinuations" of financial improprieties and malpractices in UNESCO, said that the organization's accounts had been examined and certified by the British Auditor-General since 1951.
Some speakers felt that while UNESCO had been confronted with serious difficulties, it had been able to overcome many of them, proving the faith which member States had in multilateral co-operation.
Other action: Among major decisions taken, mostly by consensus, was one by which the Conference reaffirmed that a new world information and communication order should be established. That could be done by eliminating "existing imbalances" in the field of communication, particularly with respect to the development of infrastructures and production capacities, and by encouraging "a free flow and a wider and better balanced dissemination of information".
By another text, the Conference invited the Director-General to contribute to the "broadest possible dissemination of information" which would provide the public with better understanding of the level of armaments and of the questions of arms limitation, disarmament and the consequences of the arms race.
The Director-General was asked to encourage exchanges of information among national, regional and international institutions specializing in research on human rights. He was also asked to promote a "study of conditions necessary for the effective exercise of human rights", and to encourage the dissemination, knowledge, ratification and application of international human rights instruments.
The Conference endorsed reform measures, to improve the organization's functioning, put forward by the Director-General and the Executive Board. A special committee of 18 members was established to oversee their implementation.
Considering that the problem of illiteracy could not be solved by itself and that a literacy campaign on a world-wide scale should be organized in an attempt to eradicate illiteracy, the Conference recommended that the United Nations General Assembly proclaim an International Literacy Year.
In another text, the Conference invited the Director-General to transmit a plan of action for a World Decade for Cultural Development to the United Nations General Assembly, with a view to its proclamation by the Assembly in 1986, so that the Decade could be launched in 1988.