The US is withdrawing from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, the US State Department announced on Thursday.
The “Department of State notified UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova of the US decision to withdraw from the organization and to seek to establish a permanent observer mission to UNESCO,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said.
“This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO,” she added.
UNESCO is a body of the United Nations that promotes international cooperation in education, science, culture and communication, though it is perhaps best known for its designation of “world heritage” sites — locations with particular cultural significance.
It was founded in 1945 as allied countries “were looking for ways and means to reconstruct their systems of education once peace was restored” in the wake of World War II, according to the organization — which currently has 195 members and eight associate members.
“Among other efforts, UNESCO is committed to building the capacity of various individuals and stakeholders to develop and amplify innovative responses against extremism; all while promoting the protection of freedom of expression, privacy and other fundamental freedoms,” Bokova wrote in a CNN op-ed in September.
In a statement released via her official Twitter handle, Bokova called the withdrawal “a loss to UNESCO. This is a loss to the United Nations family. This is a loss for multilateralism.”
She paid tribute to what she said had been a meaningful relationship between UNESCO and the US, saying: “since 2011, we have deepened the partnership between the United States and UNESCO, which has never been so meaningful. Together, we have worked to protect humanity’s shared cultural heritage in the face of terrorist attacks and to prevent violent extremism through education and media literacy.”
“At the time when the fight against violent extremism calls for renewed investment in education, in dialogue among cultures to prevent hatred, it is deeply regrettable that the United States should withdraw from the United Nations agency leading these issues,” Bokova said in the statement.
“At the time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack,” the statement said.