US and Israel's withdrawal from Unesco leaves World Heritage agency in jeopardy

Decision to quit after diplomatic dispute over 'anti-Israeli bias' puts future of UN humanitarian agency and crucial protections it offers in doubt

Friday 13 October 2017 11:55
The Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, a Unesco World Heritage site
The Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, a Unesco World Heritage site

Naming World Heritage sites - places like the Egyptian pyramids or the Statue of Liberty that are given a special UN status and protection - is one of the many programmes run by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

Unesco has long faced accusations of corruption, mismanagement and political bias in its resolutions and the United States and Israel said on Thursday they would leave the agency because of what they said was a longstanding anti-Israel bias and the need for reform.

Beyond the diplomatic disputes, here's a look at some things that Unesco does.

World Heritage sites

Its World Heritage Committee each year designates sites considered “of outstanding value to humanity” and intervenes when sites are in danger of destruction or damage. The program provides countries with technical assistance and professional training to preserve the sites, and now includes “intangible” heritage such as folk songs or traditional dances in its lists. A World Heritage site designation is coveted and seen as a boost to tourism.

Empowering girls

Unesco works to improve literacy, with a special focus on girls in poor countries who get little or no schooling. The agency provides teacher training and materials and encourages programmes for girls to pursue careers in science.

Holocaust education

Like the rest of the UN, Unesco was created in response to the horrors of Second World War, and particularly Nazi crimes. Amid concerns that the agency's Arab members have used Unesco to pass anti-Israel resolutions, Unesco has worked in recent years on Holocaust awareness projects. That includes educational materials in multiple languages and organising visits to former Nazi concentration camps.

Climate change

The agency seeks to coordinate climate knowledge, including studies of impacts on Unesco's network of biosphere reserves, and to improve international education about how global warming occurs and affects people around the world.


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