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While the Security Council of the United Nations (UN) gets the bulk of media coverage, predictably because of the numerous political crisis it presides over, one of the other most important organs is the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
This esteemed organization is set to have an interesting election for the position of Director General (DG). This election is expected to have its finale in October 2013, where the current UNESCO DG, Bulgarian politician Irina Georgieva Bokova, is up for reelection for another four-year mandate against other candidates, one of whom is Ambassador Rachad Farah, currently the Djiboutian Ambassador to France, as well as its permanent delegate to UNESCO, who plans to be its 11th Director General. Farah says this organization, which has focused about 80 percent of its objectives, in the Southern hemisphere, centering its attention on education, culture and science with the aim of fighting poverty, and also helping fight extremists through ideas and values that humanity shares to bring about sustainable development, will be better served and represented by a DG from the southern hemisphere. His arguments are not without reason as UNESCO, through its almost seven decades in existence, has been dominated by members from the Northern hemisphere and industrialized nations, with the exception being Malian Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow, who led the organization during the ideologically divisive years, from 1974–1987. UNESCO was ridden with controversy during this period, particularly in its relationships with the United States, the United Kingdom and the former Soviet Union. During the 1970s and 1980s, UNESCO’s support for a “New World Information and Communication Order” and a commissioned report calling for democratization of the media and more egalitarian access to information, particularly in western countries, underlined its importance as a platform to voice dissent and reform. However the organization’s importance and its controversies didn’t fade away with the end of the cold war in the early 1990s and with the “victory” of the “western capitalist camp” against “communism.” Israel and Palestine The thorny issue of the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab conflicts in the 1970s, which also involved the United States, Israel’s biggest backer, had involved UNESCO on the grounds of an alleged damage that was being done by Israel’s archaeological excavations on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, one of the holiest places of the three Abrahamic faiths, Islam, Christianity and Judaism had also resurfaced recently, . In 2011, Palestine became a member of UNESCO following a vote in which 107 member states supported the move and 14 others opposed it, including Israel, the United States and Germany. The resolution prompted the United States to declare the withdrawal of its financial contributions to the organization, which amounts to about 22 percent of its annual budget. The US based its decision on its laws passed in the 1990’s stipulating that it cannot contribute financially to any UN organization that accepts Palestine as a full member. Israel also reacted to Palestine’s admittance to UNESCO by freezing its payments to the UNESCO and imposing sanctions on the Palestinian Authority. Israel claimed that Palestine’s admittance to the UNESCO would be harmful to future peace talks. “The Forums conducted in European countries are essential but by reducing the frequency we can save time and money that can be used to build schools in very poor places for refugees,” said Farah adding that, he thinks the organization can help the growth of society in a very healthy way, which will be the direction he will take the organization, if he becomes the DG. The perceived domination of UNESCO by western and industrialized nations was starkly seen, according to some, when Egyptian candidate, Farouk Hosny, was defeated in 2009 following his anti-Israel statements were reported, although he was the clear favorite. Farah said he started his campaign to be the DG of UNESCO in Ethiopia, because of its long and rich civilization, as well as the strong bond between the two Horn of Africa nations. Farah further said his candidature has elicited strong support from the 57 member Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and a strong indication of support from the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD), which Djibouti is a member of. Farah expects his proposed candidature to be endorsed by the 53 countries who are members of the African Union at a summit in January 2013 which will be held in Addis Ababa, after which he plans to proceed to the Arab League (AL) for a similar resolution, and finally to his country of birth, Djibouti, which is a francophone country, to also seek support for his candidature from members of the Association of Francophone countries. UNESCO is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN). Its purpose is to contribute peace and security by promoting international collaboration through education, science, and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and human rights along with fundamental freedoms proclaimed by the UN Charter. Projects sponsored by UNESCO include literacy, technical, and teacher-training programs; international science programs; the promotion of independent media and freedom of the press and regional and cultural history projects. Other programs include the promotion of cultural diversity, translations of world literature, international cooperation agreements to secure the World’s cultural and natural heritage (World Heritage Sites), to preserve human rights and attempts to bridge the worldwide digital divide. It is also a member of the United Nations Development Group. Ethiopia currently has nine UNESCO registered World Heritage sites, such as the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, the walled city of Harar and the Semien Mountains National Park, with several others looking for recognition. The organization currently has 195 member states and 8 associate members.