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United States Gives Notice of Withdrawal from UNESCO, Citing Anti-Israel Bias

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On October 12, 2017, the United States announced its intent to withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), citing “concerns with mounting arrears …, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias.” The United States will remain a full UNESCO member until December 31, 2018, when the withdrawal becomes effective. Thereafter, it will continue to engage with UNESCO as a non-member observer state.

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1 U.S. Dep't of State Press Release, The United States Withdraws from UNESCO (Oct. 12, 2017), at https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2017/10/274748.htm [https://perma.cc/PQ2X-EAWJ].

2 Id.

3 Id. Shortly after the United States announced its intent to withdraw, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the Israeli Foreign Ministry to prepare the country's own withdrawal from UNESCO. Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs Press Release, PM Netanyahu Welcomes US Pres. Trump's Decision to Withdraw from UNESCO (Oct. 12, 2017), at http://mfa.gov.il/MFA/PressRoom/2017/Pages/PM-Netanyahu-welcomes-US-Pres--Trumps-decision-to-withdraw-from-UNESCO-12-October-2017.aspx.

4 Joint Resolution Providing for Membership and Participation by the United States in the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, and Authorizing an Appropriation Therefor, Pub. L. No. 79-565, 60 Stat. 712 (1946).

5 See Hoffer, Peri A., Note, Upheaval in the United Nations System: United States’ Withdrawal from UNESCO , 12 Brook. J. Int'l L. 161, 190–91, 195 (1986) (noting that the president gave Congress little if any prior notice of his decision to withdraw). Before the withdrawal took effect, a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to prohibit the president from terminating participation in UNESCO unless “‘specifically authorized by law,’” but this bill did not become a law. Id. at 195 & n. 180. There is no evidence that the Trump administration is seeking congressional approval for its decision to withdraw from UNESCO.

6 Letter from George Shultz, U.S. Sec'y of State, to Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow, Dir. Gen., UNESCO (Dec. 28, 1983), reprinted in 23 ILM 220, 221 (1984).

7 Bush, George W., Address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, 38 Weekly Comp. Pres. Doc. 1529 (Sept. 12, 2002).

8 U.S. Dep't of State Press Release, The United States Rejoins UNESCO (Sept. 22, 2003), at https://2001-2009.state.gov/p/io/rls/fs/2003/24189.htm [https://perma.cc/P6U4-ZV2E].

9 Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1990 and 1991, § 414, Pub. L. No. 101-246, 104 Stat. 70 (1990).

10 Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1994 and 1995, § 410, Pub. L. No. 103-236, 108 Stat. 454 (1994).

11 U.S. Dep't of State Press Release, Palestinian Admission to UNESCO (Oct. 31, 2011), at https://2009-2017.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2011/10/176418.htm [https://perma.cc/M5QN-DQUB]. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court held that, as a matter of constitutional law, the president has the exclusive power vis-à-vis Congress to make decisions about the recognition of foreign nations. Zivotofsky v. Kerry, 135 S. Ct. 2076 (2015). It remains unclear precisely what effect this decision will have on the validity of congressional statutes that tie appropriations to preconditions related to recognition.

12 U.S., Israel Lose Voting Rights at UNESCO over Palestine Row, Reuters (Nov. 8, 2013), at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-unesco/u-s-israel-lose-voting-rights-at-unesco-over-palestine-row-idUSBRE9A70I320131108. Israel similarly lost its voting rights, as it had also frozen its funding to UNESCO after Palestine became a member. Id. UNESCO’s Constitution provides that a “Member State shall have no vote in the General Conference if the total amount of contributions due from it exceeds the total amount of contributions payable by it for the current year and the immediately preceding calendar year.” United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Constitution, Art. IV(C)(8)(b).

13 UNESCO Press Release, World Heritage Committee Inscribes New Site and Approves Extension of Existing Site on UNESCO’s World Heritage List (July 7, 2017), at http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/1685.

14 U.S. Mission to the United Nations Press Release, Ambassador Haley on the United States’ Withdrawal from UNESCO (Oct. 12, 2017), at https://usun.state.gov/remarks/8009 [https://perma.cc/GY2N-ECGU].

15 U.S. Dep't of State Press Release, Daily Press Briefing (Oct. 12, 2017), at https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2017/10/274769.htm [https://perma.cc/6D4Y-TDN8].

16 Id.

17 Id.

18 UNESCO Press Release, Statement by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, on the Occasion of the Withdrawal by the United States of America from UNESCO (Oct. 12, 2017), at https://en.unesco.org/news/statement-irina-bokova-director-general-unesco-occasion-withdrawal-united-states-america-unesco.

19 Id.

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American Journal of International Law
  • ISSN: 0002-9300
  • EISSN: 2161-7953
  • URL: /core/journals/american-journal-of-international-law
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