Sunday, December 31, 2006

UNESCO's International Conventions

UNESCO's Director General at the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict

"International Conventions" are considered by the United Nations to be formal multilateral treaties. They are distinguished from other treaties in that they typically involve many parties. UNESCO has established and is responsible for 28 of these legal instruments. UNESCO's Conventions are subject to ratification, acceptance or accession by UNESCO Member States. The United States has ratified many of the UNESCO Conventions mentioned in the following paragraphs. It has not ratified others such as many of the regional Conventions for the recognition of studies, diplomas and degrees and those that currently remain under consideration.

Of course, many other multilateral organizations are responsible for international conventions; for example, the International Committee for the Red Cross is for the Geneva Conventions. UNESCO participates actively in some of the conventions run by other organizations. Thus, UNESCO's biosphere reserves and World Heritage sites have provided a focus for several different types of co-operative links between UNESCO and the Convention on Biological Diversity, that was developed for the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.

Two new conventions have been recently ratified by the requisite numbers of States, and are to come into force early in the new year:
* The Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions will enter into force on 18 March 2007, and
* The International Convention against Doping in Sport will enter into force on 1 February 2007.
International Conventions set regulatory standards among nations. The drafting and preparation of a UNESCO Convention are carefully regulated under the terms of the UNESCO constitution (Article IV, paragraph 4). A preliminary study of the technical and legal aspects of the question to be addressed is prepared and submitted for consideration to the Executive Board and subsequently for adoption by the General Conference. The Convention itself specifies how many nations must ratify before it comes into force. UNESCO is usually appointed as the depositary for such instruments.

Intellectual Property Rights

For many years, the UNESCO Conventions most important to American economic interests were those which protected intellectual property rights. The Universal Copyright Convention was approved in 1952 and revised in 1971. Under the Copyright Convention “each Contracting State undertakes to provide for the adequate and effective, protection of the rights of authors and other copyright proprietors in literary, scientific and artistic works, including writings, musical, dramatic and cinematographic works, and paintings, engravings and sculpture.” The International Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations was added in 1961 and the Convention for the Protection of Producers of Phonograms against Unauthorized Duplication of their Phonograms added in 1971. A further Convention relating to the Distribution of Program-Carrying Signals Transmitted by Satellite was added to the portfolio in 1974, as was the Multilateral Convention for the Avoidance of Double Taxation of Copyright Royalties in 1979.

These conventions were preceded on the global scene by the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1886) and the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property (1883), both administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization. However, the United States only acceded to the Berne Convention in 1988, obtaining a alternate source of protection for many but not all of the rights provided under the UNESCO instruments.

More recently, the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreements implemented by the World Trade Organization have been added to the international scene. Still, UNESCO and UNESCO administered IPR Conventions remain quite important within this larger network of international treaties and organizations.

The United States movie, television, recording and publishing industries are all protected against piracy by these conventions. According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, which is the repository of global statistics on cultural industries. The global market value of cultural and creative industries is an estimated $1.3 trillion and is rapidly expanding. International trade in cultural goods was an estimated $60 billion in 2002, and U.S. exports of these goods was $7.2 billion. These are industries with substantial income from foreign sales, and substantial employment in the United States based on those foreign sales. American creative communities protected by these Conventions are important not only commercially, but central to our culture. They make us friends around the world.


Educational Conventions go back to the earliest years of UNESCO's existence with the 1948 Agreement For Facilitating the International Circulation of Visual and Auditory Materials of an Educational, Scientific and Cultural Character. More recently UNESCO has been entrusted with a number of Conventions that encourage the international exchanges of university students by ensuring comparability of educational credentials. These Conventions often have the effect of helping to strengthen educational systems in the signatory nations. These Conventions include:
* The (Lisbon) Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region (1997)
* The (Paris) Convention on Technical and Vocational Education (1989)
* The Regional Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Diplomas and Degrees in Higher Education in Asia and the Pacific (1983)
* The Regional Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Certificates, Diplomas, Degrees and other Academic Qualifications in Higher Education in the African States (1981)
* The Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Diplomas and Degrees concerning Higher Education in the States belonging to the Europe Region (1979)
* The Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Diplomas and Degrees in Higher Education in the Arab States (1978)
* The International Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Diplomas and Degrees in Higher Education in the Arab and European States Bordering on the Mediterranean (1976) and
* The Regional Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Diplomas and Degrees in Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (1974)
Two further Conventions seek to prevent discrimination in education:
* The Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960), and
* The Protocol Instituting a Conciliation and Good offices Commission to be Responsible for Seeking the settlement of any Disputes which may Arise between States Parties to the Convention against Discrimination in Education (1962)
Globally, about two percent of all higher education students are studying abroad, according to UNESCO statistics. That percentage increases markedly in Africa (nearly six percent) and Central Asia (nearly four percent) where international training is an important element of efforts to strengthen the university systems. United States' tertiary education institutions in 2005-6 enrolled 564,766 international students. The foreign students in American universities enrich the educational experience for all, and many remain in the United States and continue to contribute to our nation. More generally, this international exchange of students, enhanced through UNESCO's efforts, is helping to build understanding among peoples of the world, and to strengthen the societies and economies in poor nations.

Cultural and Natural Heritage

The Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage is very well known because it is the basis for UNESCO's World Heritage Program. The Convention was created in 1972 as a result of a U.S. initiative, and there are currently 644 cultural, 162 natural and 24 mixed world heritage sites in the 138 nations that are Parties to the Convention.

There are however, a number of important other UNESCO Conventions that regulate the care and international cooperation for the protection of our heritage, including:
* The Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003)
* The Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001)
* The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (1971)
* The Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970) and
* The Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954)
These conventions have been especially important in recent years in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in the aftermath of the Israeli occupation of part of Lebanon.

Final Comments

International Conventions are but one form of the standard setting instruments used by UNESCO. There are also Recommendations adopted by the General Conference and Declarations adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO. The implementation of these standard setting instruments is an important UNESCO function, providing it with significant tools to accomplish its objectives. The creation and management of such instruments, however, also imposes a significant administrative burden on the organization, and some have suggested that UNESCO step back from the creation of new instruments to focus its efforts on the better management and utilization of the existing set.

Under the American democratic system, Congress plays a key role in the ratification of treaties brought to it by the Executive Branch of government. The State Department plays the lead role for the United States in the negotiation of international conventions and other standard setting instruments, and in helping to assure that the multilateral system works to enforce these agreements. Civil society organizations, especially those representing the educational, scientific, cultural and media sectors, play a key advisory role through the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO.

Our diplomats especially deserve our thanks and support for their relatively unsung efforts on our behalf in this complex and important arena!

Monday, December 18, 2006


UNESCO was designed “to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science, and culture.” It has accomplished a great deal since it was founded in the aftermath of World War II.

Americans for UNESCO (AU), on UNESCO’s sixtieth anniversary, set itself the task of providing an overview of what UNESCO has accomplished. Following up an initiative launched by its predecessor, Americans for the Universality of UNESCO, AU reached out to some 20 specialists in UNESCO’s fields of competence, seeking to highlight some of its achievements over the years. The UNESCO involvement of some of these experts dates as far back as the 1940s, and their collective experience amounts to over 350 years. The inquiry came to an end in the summer of 2006.

This brief document resulted from a screening of the reports of these wise people by members AU’s Board and Advisory Council. The reported accomplishments are representative, not exhaustive. The brochure identifies significant contributions to the advancement of knowledge and understanding among peoples which can be attributed to UNESCO since its founding.