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Claiming Bias, U.S.A. And Israel Pull Out Of UNESCO

The U.S. could potentially seek that status during UNESCO Executive Board meetings in April.

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The logo of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is seen druing a conference at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, Nov. 4, 2017. VOA

The United States and Israel officially quit of the U.N.’s educational, scientific and cultural agency at the stroke of midnight, the culmination of a process triggered more than a year ago amid concerns that the organization fosters anti-Israel bias.

The withdrawal is mainly procedural yet serves a new blow to UNESCO, co-founded by the U.S. after World War II to foster peace.

The Trump administration filed its notice to withdraw in October 2017 and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed suit.

The Paris-based organization has been denounced by its critics as a crucible for anti-Israel bias: blasted for criticizing Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, naming ancient Jewish sites as Palestinian heritage sites and granting full membership to Palestine in 2011.

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UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Image Source: www.mid-day.com

The U.S. has demanded “fundamental reform” in the agency that is best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions. UNESCO also works to improve education for girls, promote understanding of the Holocaust’s horrors, and to defend media freedom.

The withdrawals will not greatly impact UNESCO financially, since it has been dealing with a funding slash ever since 2011 when both Israel and the U.S. stopped paying dues after Palestine was voted in as a member state. Since then officials estimate that the U.S. — which accounted for around 22 percent of the total budget — has accrued $600 million in unpaid dues, which was one of the reasons for President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw. Israel owes an estimated $10 million.

UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay took up her post just after Trump announced the pullout. Azoulay, who has Jewish and Moroccan heritage, has presided over the launch of a Holocaust education website and the U.N.’s first educational guidelines on fighting anti-Semitism — initiatives that might be seen as responding to U.S. and Israeli concerns.

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Migrants wait in line for food at a camp housing hundreds of people who arrived at the U.S. border from Central America with the intention of applying for asylum in the U.S., in Tijuana, Mexico, Dec. 12, 2018. VOA

Officials say that many of the reasons the U.S. cited for withdrawal do not apply anymore, noting that since then, all 12 texts on the Middle East passed at UNESCO have been consensual among Israel and Arab member states.

In April of this year, Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO said the mood was “like a wedding” after member nations signed off on a rare compromise resolution on “Occupied Palestine,” and UNESCO diplomats hailed a possible breakthrough on longstanding Israeli-Arab tensions.

The document was still quite critical of Israel, however, and the efforts weren’t enough to encourage the U.S. and Israel to reconsider their decision to quit.

In recent years, Israel has been infuriated by repeated resolutions that ignore and diminish its historical connection to the Holy Land and that have named ancient Jewish sites as Palestinian heritage sites.

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Israel Flag, Pixabay

The State Department couldn’t comment because of the U.S. government shutdown. Earlier, the department told UNESCO officials the U.S. intends to stay engaged at UNESCO as a non-member “observer state” on “non-politicized” issues, including the protection of World Heritage sites, advocating for press freedoms and promoting scientific collaboration and education.

Also Read: Israel Unanimously Approves Medical Marijuana Exports

The U.S. could potentially seek that status during UNESCO Executive Board meetings in April.

The United States has pulled out of UNESCO before. The Reagan administration did so in 1984 because it viewed the agency as mismanaged, corrupt and used to advance Soviet interests. The U.S. rejoined in 2003. (VOA)

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Last Decade Had seen ‘Backlash’ Against Human Rights: UN Official

UN Official Decries Human Rights ‘Backlash’ in Last Decade

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Andrew Gilmour, U.N.assistant secretary-general for human rights, visits a Rohingya camp in Bangladesh. (VOA)

The past decade has seen a backlash against human rights on every front, especially the rights of women and LGBT communities, according to a top U.N. human rights official.

Andrew Gilmour, the outgoing assistant secretary-general for human rights, said the regression of the past 10 years hasn’t equaled the advances that began in the late 1970s — but it is serious, widespread and regrettable.

He pointed to “populist authoritarian nationalists” in North America, South America, Europe and Asia, who he said are taking aim at the most vulnerable groups of society, including Rohingya Muslims, Roma and Mexican migrants, as well as gays and women. He cited leaders who justify torture, the arrests and killing of journalists, the brutal repressions of demonstrations and “a whole closing of civil society space.”

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A Chinese police officer takes his position by the road near what is officially called a vocational education centre in Yining in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China. VOA

“I never thought that we would start hearing the terms `concentration camps’ again,” Gilmour told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview. “And yet, in two countries of the world there’s a real question.”

He didn’t name them but appeared to be referring to China’s internment camps in western Xinjiang province, where an estimated 1 million members of the country’s predominantly Muslim Uighur minority are being held; and detention centers on the United States’ southern border, where mostly Central American migrants are being held while waiting to apply for asylum. Both countries strongly deny that concentration camp-like conditions exist.

Gilmour is leaving the United Nations on December 31 after a 30-year career that has included posts in hot spots such as Iraq, South Sudan, Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories and West Africa. Before taking up his current post in 2016, he served for four years as director of political, peacekeeping, humanitarian and human rights affairs in former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s office.

Despite his dim view of the past decade, Gilmour — a Briton who previously worked in politics and journalism — said he didn’t want to appear “relentlessly negative.”

Not a straight line

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Jordan’s Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights gestures after a news conference at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva. VOA

“The progress of human rights is certainly not a linear progression, and we have seen that,” he said. “There was definite progression from the late ’70s until the early years of this century. And we’ve now seen very much the countertendency of the last few years.”

Gilmour said human rights were worse during the Cold War between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union, “but there wasn’t a pushback as there is now.”

He pointed to the fact that in the past eight years or so, many countries have adopted laws designed to restrict the funding and activities of nongovernmental organizations, especially human rights NGOs.

And he alleged that powerful U.N. member states stop human rights officials from speaking in the Security Council, while China and some other members “go to extraordinary lengths to prevent human rights defenders [from] entering the [U.N.] building even, let alone participate in the meetings.”

In March 2018, for example, Russia used a procedural maneuver to block then-U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein from addressing a formal meeting of the Security Council, the U.N.’s most powerful body, Gilmour said.

Zeid was able to deliver his hard-hitting speech soon afterward, but only at a hurriedly organized informal council meeting where he decried “mind-numbing crimes“ committed by all parties in Syria.

Gilmour also cited the United States’ refusal to authorize the council to hold a meeting on the human rights situation in North Korea, a move that effectively killed the idea.

Rights of women, gays

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U.S. United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft address the U.N. Security Council after a failed vote on a humanitarian/human rights draft resolution and for Syria. VOA

The rights of women and gays are also at stake, Gilmour said. He said nationalist authoritarian populist leaders such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have made “derogatory comments” about both groups.

He said the U.S. is “aggressively pushing” back against women’s reproductive rights both at home and abroad. The result, he said, is that countries fearful of losing U.S. aid are cutting back their work on women’s rights.

Gilmour also pointed out a report issued in September that cited 48 countries for punishing human rights defenders who have cooperated with the U.N.

“I feel that we really need to do more — everybody … to defend those courageous defenders,” he said.

Gilmour said the U.N. should also stand up when it comes to major violations of international law and major violations of human rights, but “I have found it extremely difficult to do so in all circumstances.”

He said he was happy to hear that the new U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Kelly Craft, feels strongly about ensuring human rights.

“And I do hope that she will be gently and firmly held to that high standard,“ he said.

Gilmour said that after his departure from the U.N, he will take a fellowship at Oxford’s All Souls College, where he will focus on the importance of uniting human rights and environmental rights groups.

“The human rights impact of climate change — it’s going to be so monumental,” he said.

Also Read-UN to Allocate More Funds for War Crimes Inquiries in Syria and Myanmar

As he relinquishes his post, Gilmour said he is counting on younger generations to take up the mantle of human rights and fight for other causes aimed at improving the world.

“What gives me hope as we start a new decade is that there will be a surge in youth activism that will help people to get courage, and to stand up for what they believe in,” he said.  (VOA)