U.S. to Rejoin UNESCO, Pay Back Dues

June 12, 2023

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) announced Monday that the U.S. plans to rejoin and pay more than $600 million in back dues.

U.S. officials added that the decision to return was motivated by concerns that China is filling a policymaking gap at UNESCO that was left by America’s absence, including setting global standards for artificial intelligence and technology education.

The U.S., along with Israel, had pulled out of UNESCO in 2017 over the organization’s plan to include Palestine as a member. At the time, outgoing Director-General Irina Bokova had expressed “profound regret” at the decision by the Trump Administration. 

UNESCO is best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions, but the organization also works to improve education for girls, promote understanding of the Holocaust’s horrors, and to defend media freedom.

For example, in May UNESCO awarded its prestigious World Press Freedom Prize to two imprisoned Iranian journalists, Niloufar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi, for their coverage of the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody after she was arrested in September for not properly wearing a religious head covering called a hijab.

Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Richard Verma submitted a letter last week to current UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay formalizing the United States’ plan to rejoin. In the letter, Verma noted progress in depoliticizing debate about the Middle East at UNESCO and reforming the agency’s management.

Applause reportedly erupted in the UNESCO auditorium when Azoulay read the letter at a special meeting on Monday.

PHOTO: Garden of Peace at UNESCO HQ, per Michel Ravassard & unesco.org  

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