22.03.2012 - ODG

World Affairs Council of Northern California Hosts Director-General Irina Bokova in UNESCO Dialogue

© UNESCO/ George Papagiannis - UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova speaking at the World Affairs Council of Northern California in San Francisco, March 2012

Director-General Irina Bokova covered a wide range of topics at a packed question and answer session hosted by the World Affairs Council of Northern California in San Francisco on Wednesday. The thrust of her comments were on engagement and global security, stating clearly that while the cut in United States funding has had an impact, UNESCO will recover financially, but waning U.S. influence as an advocate for shared global values comes at a price that is far too high and can never be justified. “UNESCO matters to Americans and Americans matter to UNESCO,” the Director-General said. “We need the United States to be with us in the promotion and advocacy of issues that include gender equality, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press among others,” she added.

The U.S. currently retains its voting rights at UNESCO, but according to the organization’s by-laws, the vote is suspended after two years of non-payment of dues. 

The Director-General also spoke of the direct consequences of the cut in U.S. funding, which she described as consequential and detrimental to American national security interests.  “In Iraq, the U.S. was contributing $900,000 to trigger nearly $10 million dollars in Iraqi and European Union funding that would have improved the delivery of water in Iraq.  This project took months to negotiate, but when the U.S. cut its funds, the deal fell apart.  This is the nature of these multi-lateral projects,” she explained. 

“And I must add,” she said, “a project like this is in America’s national security interests.  Lack of water can have a negative impact on a community.”  Another lost opportunity in Iraq was a project to enhance the transparency of the judiciary. 

In one particular case, the Director-General diverted funds to continue the implementation of the Tsunami Early Warning System in the Caribbean.  The U.S. was the main contributor to this effort.  “I took money from the Emergency Fund,” the Director-General told the audience, “as this is an issue of life and death.”

Other partnerships with the U.S. institutions and Americans continue to thrive.  UNESCO partnerships with major corporations like Microsoft, Cisco, Intel and Proctor and Gamble are addressing the needs of literacy and education, especially among women and girls.  Earlier this year, along with UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and Academy Award winner Forrest Whittaker, Rutgers University in New Jersey and UNESCO opened an institute for peace.  Jazz great and Goodwill Ambassador Herbie Hancock will launch International Jazz Day at the end of April with concerts in New Orleans, New York and Paris.  “Jazz is about freedom and civil rights, and a mix of cultures; it is about a common heritage embraced by all humanity,” Mme Bokova said. 

Earlier in the day, the Director-General met with leading marine biologists and oceanographers.  They discussed the organization’s upcoming plans for the Rio +20 UN conference on sustainable development in June, and the challenges faced by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission following the U.S. funding cut, as the U.S. was a substantial donor. 

The Director-General is nearing the end of her 10 day mission to the U.S. where she has emphasized girls’ and women’s education, freedom of expression, and the 40th Anniversary of the World Heritage Convention.

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