The U.S. Formally Withdraws From Unesco, the U.N. Agency That Aims to Build Peace Through Cultural Understanding

Trevi Fountain, part of the historic center of Rome that is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Trevi Fountain, part of the historic center of Rome that is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
(Wikipedia)
  • Mission San Antonio, Alamo, UNESCO World Heritage Site

    Mission San Antonio, Alamo, UNESCO World Heritage Site

    Wikimedia

  • Yosemite National Park in California, UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    Yosemite National Park in California, UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    Wikipedia

This month, the United States officially left Unesco, the United Nations' cultural and scientific organization. The U.S. was a founding member of Unesco, which was established following the horrors of the World War II era.

While the U.S. withdrawal is newly in effect, the Trump administration announced the decision in 2017. The U.S. and Israel stopped paying dues to the organization after Unesco granted full membership to Palestine in 2011. Citing ongoing anti-Israel bias for its departure, the U.S. was over $600 million in arrears when it left. (The U.S. also withdrew for a period beginning in the 1980s, under the Reagan administration, over purported pro-Soviet bias and corruption claims.)

A new director general, Audrey Azouley, has just taken over the top post at Paris-based Unesco. She says the agency has recently made strides to combat anti-Semitism, also telling the New York Times, "I have tried hard to reduce the politicization and work for consenus."

Unesco, which stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, was formed to promote peace through international cooperation in endeavors of education, science and culture. Among its varied missions, Unesco has helped preserve over 1,000 World Heritage Sites in 167 countries, spearheaded cultural projects like the reconstruction of the mausoleums in Timbuktu after their destruction by extremists and launched a series of histories written by locals that tell the world's stories.

In the U.S., a number of natural and cultural sites---from the Statue of Liberty to Yosemite National Park---have the coveted World Heritage Site status, which is a boon for tourism and preservation efforts. Several American cities have been boosted by Unesco designations--including, Paducah, Kentucky, known as "Quilt City, USA," and one of eight U.S. cities that benefit economically with status in the Unesco "Creative Cities Network," notes CityLab.

“Withdrawing from UNESCO is a shortsighted move that is more about politics, not about sound public policy,” San Antonio, Texas, city councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, who spearheaded the designation process for the Alamo and Spanish missions, told the local Fox affiliate

From Pompeii to the Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramid of Giza to Versailles, see Google Earth's amazing Street View compilation of 30 of the 1,092 places designated Unesco World Heritage Sites.

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