PEACE in Action

UNESCO-United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

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Member of the United Nations System
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

The Constitution

The Constitution of UNESCO, a specialized agency of the United Nations, was signed on 16 November 1945 in London and came into force on 4 November 1946 after ratification by 20 countries.

The Preamble

The Governments of the States Parties to this Constitution on behalf of their peoples declare:

That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed;

That ignorance 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;

That the 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;

That the 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;

That 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 consequence whereof they do hereby create the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization for the purpose of advancing, through the educational and scientific and cultural relations of the peoples of the world, the objectives of international peace and of the common welfare of mankind for which the United Nations Organization was established and which its Charter proclaims.

Purposes and Functions (Article I)

  1. The purpose of the Organization is to contribute 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.
  2. To realize this purpose the Organization will:
    1. Collaborate in the work of advancing the mutual knowledge and understanding of peoples, through all means of mass communication and to that end recommend such international agreements as may be necessary to promote the free flow of ideas by word and image;
    2. Give fresh impulse to popular education and to the spread of culture: By collaborating with Members, at their request, in the development of educational activities; By instituting collaboration among the nations to advance the ideal of equality of educational opportunity without regard to race, sex or any distinctions, economic or social; By suggesting educational methods best suited to prepare the children of the world for the responsibilities of freedom;
    3. Maintain, increase and diffuse knowledge: By assuring the conservation and protection of the world’s inheritance of books, works of art and monuments of history and science, and recommending to the nations concerned the necessary international conventions;

      By encouraging cooperation among the nations in all branches of intellectual activity, including the international exchange of persons active in the fields of education, science and culture and the exchange of publications, objects of artistic and scientific interest and other materials of information;

      By initiating methods of international cooperation calculated to give the people of all countries access to the printed and published materials produced by any of them.

  3. With a view to preserving the independence, integrity and fruitful diversity of the cultures and educational systems of the States Members of the Organization, the Organization is prohibited from intervening in matters which are essentially within their domestic jurisdiction.

Selected Performance Milestones

1948: UNESCO recommends that Member States make free primary education compulsory and universal.

1952: An intergovernmental conference convened by UNESCO adopts the Universal Copyright Convention.

1956: The Republic of South Africa withdraws from UNESCO claiming that some of the Organization’s publications amount to “interference” in the country’s “racial problems.” The state rejoins the Organization in 1994 under the leadership of Nelson Mandela.

1960: Launching of the Nubia Campaign in Egypt to move the Great Temple of Abu Simbel to keep it from being swamped by the Nile after construction of the Aswan Dam. During the 20-year campaign, 22 monuments and architectural complexes are relocated. This is the first and largest in a series of campaigns including Moenjodaro (Pakistan), Fez (Morocco), Kathmandu (Nepal), Borobudur (Indonesia), and the Acropolis (Greece).

1968: UNESCO organizes the first intergovernmental conference aimed at reconciling the environment and development, now known as “sustainable development.” This led to the creation of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme.

1972: The Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage is adopted. The World Heritage Committee is established in 1976, and the first sites are inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1978.

1974: H.H. Pope Paul VI awards the John XXIII Peace Prize to UNESCO.

1975: The United Nations University is established in Tokyo under the auspices of the UN and UNESCO.

1978: UNESCO adopts the Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice. Subsequent reports on the issue by the Director-General serve to discredit and dismiss the pseudo-scientific foundations of racism.

1980: The first two volumes of UNESCO’s General History of Africa are published. Similar series focus on other regions, notably Central Asia and the Caribbean.

1984: The United States withdraws from the Organization citing disagreement over management and other issues. The United Kingdom and Singapore withdraw in 1985. The Organization’s budget drops considerably.

1990: The World Conference on Education for All, held in Jomtiem, Thailand, launches a global movement to provide basic education for all children, youths and adults. Held ten years later in Dakar, Senegal, the World Education Forum commits governments to achieving basic education for all by 2015.

1992: Creation of the Memory of the World program to protect irreplaceable library treasures and archive collections. It now includes sound, film and television archives.

1995: Published a monogram entitled UNESCO and a Culture of Peace—Promoting a Global Movement. The publication also included programs of some collaborating governments, UN and other international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations. (More detail is provided in the Needed: a Strategy for Peace article and at the end of this article.)

1997: The United Kingdom returns to UNESCO.

1998: The Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights, developed and adopted by UNESCO in 1997, is endorsed by the UN.

1999: Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura undertakes major reforms to restructure and decentralize the Organization’s staff and activities

2001: UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity is adopted by the General Conference.

2003: The United States returns to UNESCO.

Current Priorities

Five functions were defined in UNESCO's Medium-Term Strategy for the period 2002-2007, designed primarily to serve the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, including the least-developed countries, notably in Africa, and women and youth.

A laboratory of ideas

The origins and consequences of the profound changes taking place today must be fully understood along with the place occupied by education, science, culture, and communication. UNESCO plays a key role in anticipating and defining the most important emerging problems in its spheres of competence and in identifying appropriate strategies and policies to deal with them.

A clearing house

UNESCO has a role in gathering, transferring, disseminating, and sharing available information, knowledge, and best practices in its fields of competence, identifying innovative solutions and testing them through pilot projects. UNESCO launches and co-ordinates regional or worldwide networks serving a threefold purpose: research, exchange of research results, and training. At international conferences, international experts also formulate new and common approaches to the major issues confronting UNESCO and Member States, mobilizing their talents and resources to attain common objectives.

A standard-setter

When States agree to common rules, they can draw up an agreement or convention, both of which are legally binding, or a recommendation or declaration. UNESCO serves as a central forum for fostering multidisciplinary exchange and mutual . understanding, working towards universal agreements, defining benchmarks and mobilizing international opinion. UNESCO also helps to draw up or revise the instrument, works towards its adoption or revision, sees that it is respected and, occasionally, assists Member States in putting it into practice. The Executive Board’s Committee on Conventions and Recommendations can and does act upon violations of human rights in UNESCO’s fields of competence. It has examined nearly 500 cases since 1978, of which half have been settled through contacts with the States concerned.

A capacity-builder in Member States

UNESCO organizes international cooperation for serving its stakeholders, especially its Member States, in building human and institutional capacities in all its fields of competence, in the form of “technical cooperation.” When Mauritius seeks to renovate its education system, when Kazakhstan decides to prepare legislation on press freedom, or El Salvador wishes to provide civic instruction to its police force, these countries request technical assistance from UNESCO. This advisory function generally concerns the development of policies, national strategies, projects, feasibility studies, raising funds for their execution and, finally, evaluation.

A catalyst for international cooperation

UNESCO, as a technical multidisciplinary agency, assumes a catalytic role for development cooperation in its fields of competence. To that end, it seeks to ensure that the objectives, principles, and priorities it promotes are adopted by other multilateral and bilateral programmes, and that projects are implemented.

Beyond the stimulation of personal contacts among specialists, or through the reinforcement of education systems, UNESCO contributes to the dissemination of knowledge by serving as a center for the collection and worldwide distribution of specialized information in its various fields of action, using written materials and, to an increasing extent, electronic means. UNESCO publishes annually about 50 bulletins and some 20 periodicals, publishes or co-publishes each year about 100 titles, and produces biennial global reports on the state of education, science, culture, and communication. In addition, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics website contains an extraordinary range of data and analytical reports on these fields for the world’s countries and regions.

Peace Education Program

UNESCO has an extensive list of publications; one of the most impressive is in the education field, and in particular, in peace education. In 2006, it published a 16-volume set entitled Inter-Agency Peace Education Programme.

The 16 volumes of the “Inter-Agency Peace Education Programme” provide educators with a wide variety of options for teaching concepts and skills for constructive and non-violent living at all levels in both formal and non-formal educational settings.

From the list provided in the Programme Overview (Manual 1), implementers can choose the relevant guides, activity masters, and booklets to fit their programme needs and objectives. The materials contain practical, step-by-step instructions and can be used by teachers and facilitators with very little experience of working in challenging circumstances. Extensive teacher resources, including background notes, visual aids, and reviews of additional peace education materials are included. The following link provides access to all 16 volumes:
Inter-Agency Peace Education Programme

UNESCO Definition of Peace

(From UNESCO and a Culture of Peace—Promoting a Global Movement)

“a growing body of shared values, attitudes, behaviours and ways of life based on non-violence and respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, an understanding, tolerance, and solidarity, on the sharing and free flow of information, and on the full participation and empowerment of women.

While it does not deny the conflicts that arrive from diversity, it demands non-violent solutions and promotes the transformation of violent competition into cooperation for shared goals. It is both a vision and a process, a vast project, multi-dimensional and global, which is linked to the development of positive alternatives to the functions previously served by war and militarism.”

The website for UNESCO is: []

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