United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization

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United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), specialized agency of the United Nations, with headquarters in Paris. Its counterpart in the League of Nations was the International Committee for Intellectual Cooperation. UNESCO was founded in 1945 and became an agency of the United Nations in 1946. It has 193 members and 11 associate members. The organization's policies are decided by the general conference, which meets every two years; it consists of one representative for each member. The executive board, with 58 members elected for four-year terms, and a secretariat, headed by a director-general, carry out the program. National commissions or cooperating bodies of member states act as liaisons between UNESCO and national educational, scientific, and cultural organizations. UNESCO seeks to further world peace by encouraging free interchange of ideas and of cultural and scientific achievements and by improving education.

After World War II, UNESCO worked for the physical reconstruction of the educational facilities of war-devastated countries by building up library and museum collections. Since 1950 it has organized projects for primary education in Latin America, Asia, and Africa; it has also encouraged cultural exchanges between East and West, undertaking translations of important writings and organizing personal exchanges. A most important long-range UNESCO program concerns the problem of “fundamental education”—teaching people to read and write and to meet the problems of their environment. Centers to train educators have been established in Cambodia, India, South Korea, Liberia, Thailand, and Turkey, and fundamental-education centers have been set up in Latin America and in the Middle East.

In 1959, UNESCO set up an international committee to preserve and restore cultural property, which played a leading role in preserving Egyptian monuments threatened by the construction of the Aswan High Dam (see under Aswan). Funds were collected and experts assembled from all over the world in a successful effort to save the monuments, including the famous Abu-Simbel temples of Ramses II. Subsequently, a convention was adopted to protect the world's cultural and natural heritage, under which World Heritage Sites have been formally identified and listed.

In the 1970s and 80s, UNESCO was mired in controversy over the insistence of the developing nations, supported by the Soviet bloc, that it establish a “New World Information Order.” At issue was a move to establish an international press code and licensing system for journalists, facilitating press controls by governments. The United States withdrew its membership (1984), followed by Great Britain and Singapore, charging UNESCO with budgetary extravagance and hostility to free press and free markets. By the mid-1990s, however, UNESCO was helping E European journalists adjust to a free press. Great Britain rejoined in 1997, the United States in 2003, and Singapore in 2007. In 2011, UNESCO's admission of the Palestinian Authority (as Palestine) as a full member sparked a new controversy, and led to U.S. funding cuts. In 2018 the United States again withdrew, accusing UNESCO of anti-Israel bias; Israel joined it in withdrawing.


See W. H. C. Laves and C. A. Thomas, UNESCO (1957, repr. 1968); G. H. Evans, The United States and UNESCO (1971); P. Lengyel, International Social Science: The UNESCO Experience (1986); R. A. Coate, Unilateralism, Ideology, and U.S. Foreign Policy (1988); W. Preston, Jr., et al., Hope and Folly: The United States and UNESCO, 1945–1985 (1989).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (Unesco)


an intergovernmental organization; a specialized UN institution. The UNESCO Charter was drawn up at the organization’s founding conference in November 1945 and went into effect on Nov. 4, 1946. As of May 1, 1977, UNESCO had 141 member states, of which the USSR, the Ukrainian SSR, and the Byelorussian SSR have been members since 1954. The purpose of UNESCO, as defined in Article 1 of its Charter, is to contribute to peace and international security by promoting cooperation among nations in education, science, and culture and to ensure universal respect for basic human rights and liberties irrespective of race, sex, language, or religion.

UNESCO’s activities cover a broad range and include eradicating illiteracy and combating discrimination in education, educating young people in a spirit of peace and international understanding, assisting in the training of national qualified personnel, studying national cultures, and working on problems of oceanography, the biosphere, geology, the social sciences, and mass communications. In the 1960’s and early 1970’s, on the initiative of the USSR, other socialist countries, and the developing countries, UNESCO adopted several resolutions aimed at increasing its role in the struggle for peace and in the fight against racism and colonialism despite the resistance of the forces opposing détente.

UNESCO has actively participated in international campaigns associated with anniversaries of worldwide importance. Among them have been the 50th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution (1967), the 150th anniversary of the birth of K. Marx (1968), the 100th anniversary of the birth of V. I. Lenin (1970), and the 50th anniversary of the formation of the USSR (1972).

UNESCO’s highest body is the general conference. Its executive organs are the executive board and the secretariat, which is headed by a director-general. A. M. M’Bow of Senegal was appointed director-general in November 1974, and L. Martin of Great Britain became chairman of the executive board in December 1976. The organization’s headquarters are in Paris.

UNESCO publishes The UNESCO Courier and a number of other periodicals. The Courier is issued 11 times annually in 15 languages, including Russian since January 1957.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Jean-Claude Pecker is the IHEU representative in Paris at UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, founded by 1962 Humanist of the year Julian Huxley).
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