16.12.2011 - UNESCOPRESS

UNESCO Director-General Holds Key Meetings with Congressional Leaders in Fight to Restore U.S. Funding

© UNESCO/George PapagiannisUNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, meeting Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Washington, 15 December 2011

Director-General Irina Bokova engaged in a frank and open discussion with one of UNESCO’s harshest critics Thursday, following this fall’s vote of the General Conference to admit Palestine as a member state.

Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, remained steadfast in her support of the US law which forced the Obama administration to immediately cut all US funds to UNESCO, but also praised the organization in a spirited conversation with the Director-General.  “I understand that your work is valuable and meaningful,” said Ros-Lehtinen, who was particularly impressed with the UNESCO symposium in Paris, this week, on teaching the Holocaust in primary schools.  “I congratulate you on your conference on Holocaust education,” she said.

Director General Bokova maintained that the cut in funds “punishes UNESCO unfairly” and diminishes the organization’s ability to engage on important issues such as human rights, freedom of expression, girls’ education and literacy globally and especially in countries of interest to the United States like Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The Director-General also met with two other members of the committee, the Ranking Democrat Congressman Howard Berman and Congressman Russ Carnahan.

In the U.S. Senate, Director-General Bokova met with Senator Patrick Leahy.  As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Leahy has been outspoken in his support of UNESCO and has actively sought a political solution to reverse the funding cut.  The Senator was also quick to suppress any expectation that a waiver of the law could pass the Congress any time soon, but commended the Director-General for her engagement on Capitol Hill, explaining that the Congress needs to be fully aware of the consequences, as American influence abroad is also suffering. 

The U.S. contribution to UNESCO amounts to 22% of the organizations budget. 

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