Is Paris Burning? UNA-USA Nationwide Conference Call Summary

How the U.S. Defunding of UNESCO is Affecting the Agency

March 20, 2012


This month’s call was held on Tuesday, March 13, 2012 and featured David Killion, U.S. Permanent Representative to UNESCO at the U.S. Department of State. After his presentation, David took questions from the audience for roughly 25 minutes.


David touched on the history of UNESCO and its ability to help advance peace, democratic values, literacy, and education to name just a few. The remainder of the call was focused on the current state of the relationship between the U.S. and UNESCO after the U.S. withdrew its funding for the organization in late 2011 in accordance with two laws passed by Congress in the 1990s.


David stated that the U.S. currently faces a crisis of engagement. Other UNESCO member states have stepped forward to help the agency fund its programs, but it is not enough to fill the void. UNESCO lost 22% of its budget as a result of the U.S. cutting off its funding. The lack of funds has had a significant impact on UNESCO programs, especially in the field, including travel restrictions and downsizing of the workforce.


Contrary to what has been said by those who support the U.S. defunding UNESCO, David argued that the agency directly supports U.S. interests. Examples he cited included: UNESCO-led literacy training in Afghanistan and Iraq; agency work to restore and strengthen systems and government capacity in Pakistan after devastating floods hit the country in 2010; support for the new government in South Sudan; and the facilitation of emergency humanitarian projects in the Horn of Africa such as water access.


The question and answer session discussed the subjects of Congressional resistance to UNESCO funding and what UNA members can do to advocate for U.S. reengagement, the potential of UNESCO funding to be funneled through nongovernmental organizations, and the potential pressure defunding UNESCO puts on other UN agencies such as the World Health Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

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