United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, commonly known as UNESCO, is a specialized agency of the United Nations system established in 1946. The Organization’s main objective 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 (Article 1 of UNESCO’s Constitution).
191 nations belong to UNESCO. The Organization is headquartered in Paris, France, with over 50 field offices and several institutes and centres throughout the world. UNESCO pursues its action through five major programmes: education, natural sciences, social & human sciences, culture and communication & information. Projects sponsored by UNESCO include literacy, technical, and teacher-training programs; international science programs; regional and cultural history projects, the promotion of cultural diversity; and international cooperation agreements to secure the world’s cultural and natural heritage and to preserve human rights.
UNESCO has at times been highly controversial. During the 1970s and 1980s, Western countries, especially the United States and the United Kingdom, believed it was being used as a forum for Communist and Third World countries to attack the West. UNESCO developed a plan called the "New World Information Order", to stop alleged lies and misinformation being spread about developing countries. The West rejected it as an attempt by Third World and Communist dictatorships to destroy freedom of the press; the United States withdrew from the organization in protest in 1984, and the United Kingdom withdrew in 1985. (The UK rejoined in 1997, and the US rejoined in 2003.) UNESCO has also been criticized by some for its large and ponderous bureaucracy.
One of UNESCO's missions is to maintain a list of world heritage sites. These sites are important natural or historical sites whose preservation and safe keeping are deemed important for the world community. However once a site is on this list UNESCO does not get involved in any way with the preservation of the site. UNESCO also maintains the list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Every year, UNESCO promotes freedom of expression and freedom of the press as a basic human right by marking World Press Freedom Day ( on May 3. The event is held to remember, celebrate and emphasize the importance of press freedom as a crucial ingredient of any healthy, democratic and free society.
Directors General of UNESCO
- Julian Huxley, United Kingdom (1946–1948)
- Jaime Torres Bodet, Mexico (1948–1952)
- John Wilkinson Taylor, United States (acting 1952–1953)
- Luther Evans, United States 1953–1958
- Vittotino Veronese, Italy (1958–1961)
- René Maheu, France (1961–1974; acting 1962)
- Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow, Senegal (1974–1987)
- Federico Mayor, Spain (1987–1999)
- Koïchiro Matsuura, Japan (1999–present)