Palestinian Vote Puts Spotlight on UNESCO

Posted October 31st, 2011 at 3:55 pm (UTC-5)
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The United Nations cultural agency's historic vote Monday to grant Palestinians full membership in the international body shines a spotlight on UNESCO.

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's mission includes promoting peace-building, the eradication of poverty, literacy, science and education – including sex education. The organization focuses on two global priorities – Africa and gender equality.

UNESCO's most visible effort is its designation of world heritage sites. The agency's World Heritage List currently includes 936 properties in 153 countries protected for their special cultural or physical significance.

In the past, many in the U.S. and other countries viewed the organization as politicized and corrupt. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan withdrew American membership. The U.S. then rejoined UNESCO after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The Aswan High Dam project in Egypt catapulted UNESCO to world prominence. Had construction begun as planned, the dam would have flooded the valley containing the Abu Simbel temples, a treasure of ancient Egyptian civilization.

In 1959, after an appeal from the governments of Egypt and Sudan, UNESCO launched an international safeguarding campaign. Archaeological research in the areas to be flooded was accelerated and the temples were dismantled, moved to dry ground and reassembled.