The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is an agency within the United Nations established in London on 16 November 1945, with the aim of "contribut[ing] to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion, by the Charter of the United Nations." The agency's constitution came into force on 4 November 1946 after ratification by twenty countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, France, Greece, India, Lebanon, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. As of October 2007 there were 193 Member States and six Associate Members. The organization is now based in Paris, and maintains over 50 regional offices worldwide.
The agency made the following declaration, setting out its purpose: "...since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed... [I]gnorance of each other’s ways and lives has been a common cause, throughout the history of mankind, of that suspicion and mistrust between the peoples of the world through which their differences have all too often broken into war... [T]he great and terrible war which has now ended was a war made possible by the denial of the democratic principles of the dignity, equality and mutual respect of men, and by the propagation, in their place, through ignorance and prejudice, of the doctrine of the inequality of men and races... [T]he wide diffusion of culture, and the education of humanity for justice and liberty and peace are indispensable to the dignity of man and constitute a sacred duty which all the nations must fulfil in a spirit of mutual assistance and concern... [A] peace based exclusively upon the political and economic arrangements of governments would not be a peace which could secure the unanimous, lasting and sincere support of the peoples of the world, and that the peace must therefore be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind. For these reasons, the States Parties to this Constitution, believing in full and equal opportunities for education for all, in the unrestricted pursuit of objective truth, and in the free exchange of ideas and knowledge, are agreed and determined to develop and to increase the means of communication between their peoples and to employ these means for the purposes of mutual understanding and a truer and more perfect knowledge of each other’s lives..."
In order to fulfill its objectives, the agency collaborates with governments and non-governmental organizations in the work of advancing the mutual knowledge and understanding of peoples, through all means of mass communication and to promote the free flow of ideas by word and image. Member states are also able to request assistance in formulating educational methods "best suited to prepare the children of the world for the responsibilities of freedom".
The agency also works to conserve and protect the world's inheritance of books, works of art and monuments of history and science, and recommends to the nations concerned the necessary international conventions which apply to such artefacts.
As the only United Nations agency with this mandate to defend the basic human right of freedom of expression and press freedom, which are essential components of democracy, UNESCO actively promotes media pluralism and freedom of and access to information. In conflict areas, information is very often replaced by rumours and propaganda. For this reason, UNESCO has been supporting for the last ten years independent media in conflict areas that provide non-partisan information to the population.
In the late 1970s and 1980s, UNESCO's call for a New World Information and Communication Order and the publication of its MacBride report brought condemnation from the United Kingdom, the United States and Singapore, who perceived that UNESCO was being used as a platform for communist and Third World propaganda. In 1982, at the UNESCO summit held in Mexico City, Cuba submitted a resolution called "Culture and the Control of Information", co-sponsored by Madagascar, Angola, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Grenada, and São Tomé and Príncipe. The resolution blamed cultural problems worldwide on Western capitalism. Between 1984 and 1986, all three countries resigned their membership of the agency. Following sweeping changes to the agency's organization and management, the United Kingdom rejoined in 1997, the United States in 2003, and Singapore in 2007. In 2011 the UNESCO recognized Palestine as a member state. The spokesman of Israel Yigal Palmor warned of an anti-israelian agenda and the underminding of peace talks.
UNESCOʼs action is extended and amplified by a group of "Goodwill Ambassadors" who use their talents and/or status to help focus the worldʼs attention on the work of the agency. Originating from many different parts of the world and from diverse personal and professional backgrounds, they aim to promote the ideals of peace, justice, solidarity and mutual understanding. The following personalities currently assume the position of UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador:
- Ara Abramian
- José Antonio Abreu
- Valdas Adamkus
- Mehriban Aliyeva
- Alicia Alonso
- Patrick Baudry
- Pierre Bergé
- Montserrat Caballé
- Pierre Cardin
- Claudia Cardinale
- Marin Constantin
- Cheick Modibo Diarra
- Miguel Angel Estrella
- Vigdís Finnbogadóttir
- H. R. H. Princess Firyal
- Ivry Gitlis
- H. R. H. the Princess of Hanover
- Bahia Hariri
- Ikuo Hirayama
- Jean Michel Jarre
- Omer Zülfü Livaneli
- Jean Malaurie
- Nelson Mandela
- H. R. H. Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg
- Lily Marinho
- Rigoberta Menchu Túm
- H. R. H. Princess Lalla Meryem of Morocco
- Kitín Muñoz
- Ute-Henriette Ohoven
- Cristina Owen-Jones
- Kim Phuc Phan Thi
- Susana Rinaldi
- Mstislav Rostropovitch
- H. E. Sheikh Ghassan I. Shaker
- Madanjeet Singh
- H. R. H. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand
- Wole Soyinka
- Zurab Tsereteli
- Giancarlo Elia Valori
- Marianna Vardinoyannis
- Milú Villela
- Julio Werthein
The First Lady of the United States of America, Laura Welch Bush, was designated UNESCO Honorary Ambassador for the Decade of Literacy in the context of the United Nations Literacy Decade (2003-2012). This designation came in recognition of her dedication to learning and the promotion of reading, her commitment to universal education and literacy, her work on behalf of libraries and the sharing of knowledge, and her outstanding efforts in support of teachers and the teaching profession.
- Constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Legal Instruments UNESCO. Accessed 13 January 2008
- UNESCO Constitution Legal Instruments UNESCO. Accessed 13 January 2008
- Constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Legal Instruments op cit
- Gulick, Thomas G. "UNESCO, Where Culture Becomes Propaganda" The Heritage Foundation. Accessed 13 January 2008.
- UNESCO Goodwill Ambassadors UNESCO. Accessed 1 February 2008
- UNESCO Goodwill Ambassadors UNESCO. Accessed 1 February 2008
- The UNESCO Honorary Ambassador for the Decade of Literacy UNESCO. Accessed 1 February 2008