The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is an agency of the United Nations (UN) that aims to promote global peace through advancements in a variety of disciplines. Although it has a wide variety of programs, its efforts at promoting peace through the areas of bioethics, health, music and the arts, literacy, and HIV/AIDS education and prevention are of particular significance. This report will describe UNESCO’s involvement and achievements in each of these disciplines.
The General Conference and Structure of UNESCO UNESCO’s structure plays an important role in its effectiveness worldwide. Currently, UNESCO is a conglomeration of 195 member states, with Pakistan being the most recent to join. Since its initial organization on November 20, 1946, its member states have met once every two years for a three-week convention during which issues important to the agency are discussed and plans for the next two years are laid. Specific budgets and objectives are also discussed. Once consensus is attained, the Director-General, an individual elected every four years by the representatives of the member states, works to implement the decisions and selects a team of civil servants who have the training and capability to assist in meeting the planned objectives around the world. The UNESCO meetings usually occur in Paris, one of the organization’s two headquarters. The committees and sub-level organizations within the General Conference that also work to implement UNESCO’s plans include the plenary meeting of delegation heads; the subsidiary bodies, which are composed of a chairperson, four vice-vhairpersons, and a rapporteur, along with staff; and, finally, the four statutory committees, that is, the credentials, legal, nominations, and headquarters committees (Henk 23; Pohle).
The Expanding Scope of UNESCO’s Efforts
The expansion of UNESCO’s outreach scope is an example of what happens when many heterogeneous parts of an organization come together to address the needs facing each part. UNESCO’s constitution specifies that the organization should work in the areas of education, science, and culture. The initial focus of its efforts was on promoting global education through the building and expansion of schools, libraries, museums, and other academic institutions by facilitating the processes necessary to start and maintain them, and many of UNESCO’s early efforts were intended to encourage the free and open sharing of knowledge and ideas. These efforts were initially more facilitative than anything, but this would change in future committee meetings.
As the populations affected by and represented in UNESCO memberships changed, so too did the scope of UNESCO’s efforts. During the 1950s more less-developed countries gained membership, and the issues they faced became of more importance. These included topics such as illiteracy, poverty, and the lack of development and infrastructure. This expansion and change in focus did not occur without contention, and the organization criticized by some of its Western members for its supposed “anti-Western approach to cultural issues” (Mingst). Indeed, the chasm was strong enough that the United States, Singapore, and the United Kingdom all withdrew their membership during the 1980s. However, despite these difficulties, all three members rejoined following the 1997 rise of the Labour Party. As the makeup of UNESCO has expanded, so too has the scope of its outreach efforts. UNESCO is now involved in education and science programs, human rights initiatives, the promotion of art and music, biomedical ethics, and many more widespread initiatives. The following sections describe just a few of these efforts (Mingst).
UNESCO and Efforts in Bioethics
UNESCO’s work in bioethics began in the 1970s as issues in bioethical practice began to be raised in countries across the globe.