On the 16th November 1945, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation – otherwise known as UNESCO – was founded. UNESCO was created to promote international collaboration in education, science and culture as a way to contribute towards world peace and security. Consequently UNESCO’s remit is enormous, seeing it operate across five major areas: education, natural sciences, social/human sciences, culture, and communication/information.
UNESCO’s origins lie within the League of Nations’ stated aim of achieving international cooperation, with its published aim being to “contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information”. At the end of a two-week meeting in London, its constitution was signed by 37 countries on the 16th November.
UNESCO is perhaps best known for its cultural work, in which it confers World Heritage status on places with special cultural or physical significance. Its first major scheme was to physically move the Abu Simbel temple in Egypt to avoid the flood waters of the Aswan Dam. However, UNESCO’s work extends far beyond cultural preservation and has seen it engage in literacy, technical, and teacher-training programmes; international science programmes, and support for freedom of the press.
However, since its inception UNESCO has found itself involved in a number of controversies. For example, the Republic of South Africa withdrew in 1956 amid claims that the organisation was interfering in the country’s domestic policies through declarations regarding race. More recently, when 107 member states voted in favour of Palestine becoming a UNESCO member, the United States and Israel withdrew their funding.