Cablegate: Unesco Spring Executive Board: Political Issues

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E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: UNESCO's April 1-17 Executive Board was a success
for the United States. On the whole, we enjoyed good working
relations with countries in other geographic groups. Regional
voting blocs and economic and other groupings, such as the
Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the G-77 initially sought
confrontation on several issues but later showed flexibility. Most
notably, Cuba and Iran fell far short when they tried to submit a
draft initiative on human rights and cultural diversity that was
intended to polarize the organization between the non-aligned and

2. (SBU) On major policy issues (internal management-organizational
issues septel), we were able once again to adopt consensually
without debate a resolution on Jerusalem and the Mughrabi Gate
ascent to the Temple Mount. A Venezuelan initiative for a treaty on
the preservation of indigenous languages was deferred for
consideration at a later Executive Board, largely because Venezuela
had failed to follow through on its undertaking to provide
extra-budgetary funding for a preliminary experts' study of what
would be needed. (N.B. The Board did not accept any proposals for
new normative instruments.) Finally, the Board endorsed a refined
(and significantly pared down) plan of action for the commemoration
of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
that included a U.S. suggestion that the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights be translated into an additional 120 indigenous
languages, if possible. The decision "invites the Director-General
to seek extra-budgetary resources" to ensure implementation of the a
number of elements in the refined plan.

3. (SBU) We did not, of course, get everything we wanted or entirely
avoid controversy. We would have preferred, for example, that the
Mughrabi Gate issue not be treated as a separate agenda item, as the
issue is a technical matter more appropriately addressed by the
World Heritage Committee and, within the Executive Board as one of a
cluster of progress reports routinely made by the Director General
on pending matters. A last minute maneuver by Egypt (against the
highly unusual combined opposition of Israel, Jordan, and the
Palestinians) resulted in the adoption of a decision that retained
the Mughrabi Gate issue on the Executive Board's future as an
element of the "Jerusalem" issue.

4. (SBU) On a more concerning note, a U.S. decision to invoke its
right to request permission to observe private sessions of the
Committee on Conventions and Recommendations (CR) as it reviews
human rights complaints, even though we are not a member of the CR,
met with heated opposition from Cuba and South Africa and statements
of concern from France and Luxembourg. The rarity of requests like
ours by sitting Executive Board Member States, combined with the
fact that both the rules and past precedent allowed for such
observer participation, caught opponents by surprise and led some
to argue that the presence of the U.S. or other observers would
somehow chill the committee's debates. An obviously, uncomfortable
German committee chair after consulting UNESCO's Legal Adviser and
the Bureau ruled in our favor taking the view that the rules of
procedure cannot be changed during an Executive Board session. We
need to be alert, however, for a move to change those rules at a
succeeding Board session. Finally, Serbian Foreign Minister Jeremic
strongly denounced the alleged destruction of Serbian cultural
monuments in Kosovo and served notice that Serbia will look to
UNESCO to help protect cultural sites in the face of "the danger
posed by the unilateral, illegal, and illegitimate declaration of
independence by the Kosovo Albanians on February 17." End Summary.

5. (U) The 58 members of UNESCO's Executive Board (EB) met in Paris
April 1-17 for the Board's 179th session. This was the first
substantive Board meeting since last October's General Conference
and a key opportunity to set the tone for the biennium now
beginning. This message examines the key political issues at the
Board. A separate message will report on the Board's consideration
of issues relating to UNESCO's internal organization and management.


6. (SBU) Cuba began a four-year term on the Board with a strong
effort to revive UNESCO's dormant non-aligned caucus (NAM) of which
it is the chair and polarize the membership along north-south lines.
In doing so, it worked hand-in-glove with Iran (not currently a
Board member). UNESCO almost always operates on consensus with most
measures adopted by consensus. Friendly diplomats on developing
country delegations, however, warned us just before the Board that
in meetings of the NAM Cuba was talking openly of forcing votes and
was trying to win support from NAM members to launch several
initiatives that the north would be certain to oppose. Among these
was a suggestion from Iran that the NAM submit a resolution on the
"right to scientific knowledge." Thanks, we are told, to the strong
opposition of India, Cuba and Iran failed to win the backing of the
NAM for such a measure .

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7. (SBU) Cuba and Iran did, however, win agreement to the submission
of a draft decision that requested UNESCO take note of the
Declaration on "Human Rights and Cultural Diversity" that was
adopted by the September 2007 NAM Ministerial in Tehran. As
submitted initially, the draft recommended that UNESCO use the
Tehran declaration during its celebration the 60th anniversary of
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It would also have
required UNESCO to cooperate with the NAM Center for Human Rights
and Cultural Diversity in Tehran, as well as insert an item on
"Human Rights and Cultural Diversity" on the agenda of the Spring
2009 Executive Board session.

8. (SBU) The Cubans' draft resolution aroused strong opposition
among Western countries (Group I). In several heated Group I
meetings, many states expressed resentment at the apparent link
being made between the 2005 Convention on the Diversity of Cultural
Expressions and the body of generally accepted human rights, as well
as the implied limitation on full respect for all human rights when
such rights are inconsistent with dominant cultural mores. France
and Belgium were adamant about their readiness to call for a vote on
the Cuban draft, if necessary. Italy recalled in that advocates of
the 2005 convention had explicitly assured the U.S. that the
convention had nothing to do with human rights. Greece strongly
condemned a blatant effort at "forum shopping." The Greek
ambassador pointed out that the United Nations General Assembly
(UNGA) had spent three weeks debating a resolution referring to the
Tehran NAM Declaration and had in the end only agreed to take note
of that document. Cuba and Iran should get less in Paris than they
got in New York, he insisted.

9. (SBU) In the end, the Norwegian EB Vice Chair Einar Steensnaes
(representing Group I) held a series of tense negotiating sessions
with NAM representatives that continued until the afternoon of the
Board's very last day. In these discussions, European Union members
were keen to have the NAM agree to language that reiterated that
universality of human rights and removed direct reference to the
Tehran Declaration. (The French told us that they suspected the
Iranians' ultimate goal was to create cultural exceptions to
otherwise universal human rights standards.) Numerous formulations
were tried, as was a general reference to the 1993 Vienna Plan of
Action. When NAM representatives would not accept such a reference,
France with support from Italy, Belgium, and other Europeans
announced it was instructed to seek a vote. At this, however, the
NAM recoiled. Even though the Cubans' original intention had
probably been to force such an outcome, the other NAM members
clearly did not want to break UNESCO's tradition of consensus and
leave the organization divided and politicized. In the end, the NAM
agreed to a resolution that referred only to the General Assembly
resolution (62/155) -- not the underlying Tehran Declaration -- and
quotes language from the Vienna Plan of Action that reaffirms that
all human rights are universal, while tasking the UNESCO
Director-General to "report on UNESCO's activities on human rights
and cultural diversity, through the Executive Board, in order to
contribute to the Secretary-General's report on this subject" at the
64th General Assembly session.

Jerusalem and Mughrabi Gate Issues

10. (SBU) Jerusalem and the Mughrabi Ascent to the Temple Mount
bulked large at this session as they have at recent Board meetings.
While UNESCO was once again able to avoid divisive debate and adopt
resolutions on these topics by consensus, there was extensive and
sometimes heated discussion in the corridors outside the meeting.

11. (SBU) The essential issue was whether the Mughrabi Ascent should
be treated as a stand-alone agenda item, and if not, whether it
should be subsumed within the resolution on Jerusalem that is taken
up at each session as a separate item. In recent Executive Boards,
for reasons that were unique to those sessions, there has been one
resolution on maintaining the character of Jerusalem and another
regarding the Mughrabi Ascent to the Temple Mount. At this Board
session, it no longer made sense to keep the Mughrabi Ascent as a
separate agenda item as the issue was referred to the World Heritage
Committee last year. In taking this position, the U.S. was joined
by Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian observer delegation.

12. (SBU) Egypt, nonetheless, was determined to keep the Mughrabi
Ascent as a separate item on the Executive Board's agenda and
skillfully manipulated Executive Board Chairman Ya'i (Benin) to
facilitate this outcome. The U.S. was forced to intervene in the
first minutes of the opening Plenary to object to the inclusion on
the formal agenda of an item on this subject. We argued the item
could be dealt with in the Director-General's progress report to the
Board on actions taken to implement past Executive Board decisions;
any additional actions should be agreed at the World Heritage

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13. (SBU) Deputy Director-General Barbosa attempted to defuse the
problem by folding the Mughrabi Ascent issue into a second "section"
of the draft decision that dealt with the character of Jerusalem.
Egypt eventually accepted inclusion of language on the Mughrabi
issue in the larger draft Jerusalem decision, but worked behind the
scenes with Chairman Ya'i and the Secretariat to have a separate
topic on Mughrabi Gate included in the agenda at the last moment,
although the draft decision presented on this topic was purely
pro-forma. The important language on the Mughrabi ascent issue wound
up in the Jerusalem resolution. Notably, as finally adopted, the
latter decision invites the Director-General to make a progress on
the issue. This decision is ambiguous as to when and in what form
the progress report is to be made.

14. (SBU) The U.S. made a statement for the record after the
decision was adopted, indicating that it would make formal
objections in the future should the Mughrabi Ascent be again put on
the agenda as a separate item. Only Egypt and Algeria spoke
afterwards, reaffirming their view that the Mughrabi Ascent is of
sufficient importance to require its review as a separate issue.


15. (SBU) Before the Board's opening, it had been widely assumed
that the language issue would dominate these proceedings. This is
the UN's Year of Languages, and Venezuela had convinced the Spring
2007 Board to adopt a decision, requesting the Director-General to
"conduct a preliminary study of the technical and legal aspects of a
possible international standard-setting instrument for the
protection of indigenous and endangered languages . . . . and to
submit such a preliminary study to the Executive Board" at its
Spring 2008 session. EB Chairman Ya'i did little to conceal his
support for the idea of a new standard-setting instrument, believing
fervently as he does, that African children must receive some of
their education in their native languages.

16. (SBU) In any event, the push for a new treaty on languages
stalled. While the Latin American states did not wish to publicly
disagree with Venezuela, current chair of the Latin American group,
we understand many expressed reservations when the Latin group met
behind closed doors. Most important, there was no preliminary study
for the Board to discuss because, after winning agreement to conduct
such a study, Venezuela failed to provide the extra-budgetary funds
needed to carry it out.


17. (SBU) Prior to this Executive Board meeting, the U.S.
Delegation anticipated that consideration of UNESCO's proposed plan
for commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights would lead to heated controversy as happened when
the plan was first presented to the General Conference last October.
At that time, the Secretariat's ambitious plans for a series of
regional conferences and two large international meetings, all
intended to focus on emerging rights, provoked vigorous debate
following which the General Conference refused to "endorse" the
original plan and called for a "refined plan" for approval at this
Executive Board session.

18. (SBU) Debate on this issue turned out to be calmer at this Board
session than at the General Conference last October. In the end,
two decisions on this topic were adopted with little fanfare. One
was a scaled back version of the original plan but with deeper
Member State ownership and input, for most of which the
Director-General will seek extra-budgetary funding. (N.B. The list
included a U.S. suggestion that the Universal Declaration be
translated into as many as 120 additional indigenous languages. A
symbolic U.S. contribution toward the costs of such translation will
be needed to re-affirm U.S. credibility on this issue.) A second
decision submitted by Colombia with significant support from other
Latin American states requested the Director-General to provide
intellectual support for a regional human rights conference in
Colombia and asked him to mobilize the intellectual and human
resources needed to organize this event, "it being understood that
conference's logistical expenses will be covered by the host


19. (SBU) EDUCATION: Few other issues provoked the drama or
controversy of the ones already mentioned. There were, however,
several significant education issues on the agenda. The Board, for
example, adopted without debate a decision on Educational and
Cultural Institutions in the occupied Arab Territories. Adopted
also was a progress report on the application of the Global Action
Plan to achieve the Education for All (EFA) goals by 2015. On that
item, this Delegation was successful in ensuring that the language
in the draft decision clarified that there were other financial

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mechanisms in addition to the Fast Track Initiative (FTI) that were
funding EFA. WE also expanded the meaning of the term "multi-lateral
assistance" to include "promoting national leadership, capacity
development, communication and advocacy, resource mobilization and
effective use of aid through existing mechanisms" so that it was not
limited to financial assistance. Finally, there was broad support
for a German draft decision requesting a UNESCO strategy on
Technical and Vocational Education and Training. Over half of the
delegations, including the United States, agreed to cosponsor this

20. (U) A Latin-proposed measure on PRELAC (Regional Education
Project for Latin America and the Caribbean) was postponed until the
autumn 2008 Executive Board at the request of the Latin American
countries, because the UNESCO-prepared document blatantly failed to
reflect the decisions taken by the Latin American Ministers of
Education at the second Intergovernmental Committee meeting of
PRELAC in March, 2007.

21. (SBU) The most controversial education item was a decision on
the Joint Experts Seventh Meeting on the Right to Education. The
United States had concerns that both the summary and the draft
decision referred to "normative bases" and could imply that UNESCO
and the Joint Experts group were seeking new normative instruments
in this area. The United States, working through the Portuguese
Delegation, was successful in ensuring that the draft resolution
expressly referred to "existing" normative bases so it is clear that
no new normative instruments would be created or implied regarding
this topic.

22. (U) SCIENCE: Natural Science issues generated little debate at
this Board. Discussion of UNESCO's Draft Climate Change Strategy
generated nothing like the controversy it did when first discussed
last October. It was not adopted, however. About 25 members of the
Executive Board spoke, most favorably. St. Kitts and Nevis
encouraged greater emphasis on Small Island Developing States
(SIDS), and added language to increase emphasis on SIDS and other
less developed countries. The US requested a reduction in the
emphasis on renewable energy based on a desire to focus resources in
areas of demonstrated UNESCO competence. Luxembourg supported this
position. Norway encouraged greater focus and asked for a revised
plan with specifics on value added, significant contributions, and
measurable results. A revised plan will be submitted at the 181st
Executive Board meeting. The US also requested that the key
concerns of Member States, expressed at the meeting, be addressed.

23. (U) Member States also supported an Ethiopian proposal to make
2011 the International Year of Chemistry.

24. (U) Also considered were several so-called category 2 centers,
centers that are paid for by the host countries but are supposed to
assist UNESCO in its work. Two proposed centers, one in China and
the other in the Korean Republic aroused little opposition, although
several members questioned whether two centers dedicated to the
preservation of intangible cultural heritage of the Asia-Pacific
region were needed in such close proximity to each other. The
Secretariat was asked to prepare a feasibility study on these and to
report on its findings at the autumn 2008 session of the Board.

25. (SBU) A Chinese proposal to establish a Category 2 Center
managed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences to monitor cultural and
natural sites, including World Heritage Sites and World Biosphere
Reserves, using satellite remote sensing techniques aroused an
extended debate. Approximately 20 countries endorsed the proposal
with only minor criticisms. Most speakers noted the important
capacity-building aspects and hoped to cooperate with the Center.
The Japanese, however, remarked that no current activities existed
between their space agency (JAXA) and the CAS, although China had
claimed some cooperation with Japan in the proposal. The US spoke
positively about the Center but attempted to add language that would
require for all such Centers, starting with Category II Centers
approved at this Board session, a standing requirement to obtain an
external review before the Center could be renewed by UNESCO. China
agreed, in principle, that reviews of centers should be encouraged
but wanted the matter deferred and considered in a larger context.
Brazil stated that there was a provision for review in the model
agreement for centers in Annex II, Article 16 of the 33C/Resolution
90. This article permits review by the Director-General with a
presentation of the results at the Executive Board. Language to
request a review by the Director-General of the Center prior to
renewal under Article 16 was accepted.


26. (SBU) CR: Not everything went our way. Disagreements emerged
that signal serious problems at future Executive Boards. In
addition to the second agenda item on the Mughrabi Gate (see above),
the U.S. request to observe the private deliberations of the

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Committee on Conventions and Recommendations (CR) touched off
fireworks that may have reverberations at the Board session next
autumn. Despite the CR Chairman's approval (Germany), several
countries, including Cuba and South Africa, registered strong and
continuing protests against the U.S. presence in the room, while
France and Luxembourg indicated discomfort with such a practice,
invoking vaguely articulated reasons. The central argument invoked
against having an observer present was that an observer could
compromise the confidentiality of the (human rights) "cases" being
discussed. The U.S., however, was clear that, while countries whose
cases are being reviewed by the Committee should never be present
during the CR's debate over what conclusions should be drawn and how
to report to the Executive Board, all Executive Board members can be
entrusted to respect the confidentiality of CR proceedings and hence
"private" meetings should never exclude sitting Executive Board
members. (Note: All member states may sit in as observers at all
Executive Board sessions and at meetings of its subsidiary bodies
and committees.) Moreover, there has not to date been any known
instance of an observer State violating the confidentiality of any
CR proceeding.

27. (SBU) The issue was discussed with UNESCO's Legal Adviser and in
the Bureau. It was acknowledged that the rules do not prohibit such
observer status and it was determined that the existing rules of
procedure could not be revised during the current Executive Board
session. We believe that the rules are clear that all UNESCO
meetings, whether called "private" or "open" may be observed by, at
the very least, all sitting Executive Board Members. "Private"
should be interpreted as meaning that such meetings may not be
viewed by the general public or other UN agencies. We can expect,
however, that the question of which countries may observe various
meetings will come up again at a future Board meeting, and we could
well face a move to change the rules to make observer presence at
private sessions impossible. We should begin to muster compelling
legal arguments that can be deployed when that debate arises.

28. (U) Serbia/Kosovo: Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic used
his remarks during the general debate at the opening of the
Executive Board to deliver a stern warning that Serbia may seek in
future to raise at UNESCO the issue of preservation of Serbian
cultural monuments in Kosovo. In a highly emotional statement that
won scattered applause from other delegations he declared that "the
greatest challenge to human rights in Serbia lies in our southern
province of Kosovo under United Nations administration since June
1999 . . . . More than 150 churches or monasteries . . . have been
set ablaze by Kosovo Albanian extremists in the past eight years . .
. . Hundreds of other holy sites remain at risk . . . The purposeful
attempt to vandalize, loot, burn, desecrate, and destroy what others
have built long ago . . . (to) invent an historical narrative of
one's own must be condemned in the strongest possible terms, and
identified clearly for what they are: revolting acts of cultural


29. (SBU) By the standards of past UNESCO meetings, the spring
Executive Board was a model of how well UNESCO can function, in
spite of itself. While regional blocs maintained their outward
solidarity, they were not as rigid or as determined to thwart the
U.S. as in meetings past. Behind the scenes, for example, other
Latin countries clearly exercised a restraining influence on Cuba
(and Venezuela, not on the Board but currently Latin American Group

30. (SBU) Notably, the Board did not adopt any new initiatives
intended to lead to new normative instruments, with one possible
exception. A superficially-prepared initiative by the Secretariat
to have the Board adopt a formal recommendation on the preservation
of historic urban areas ran into significant opposition from many
delegations. The experts committee that recommended this measure
was composed largely of German and Austrian experts and had little
geographic balance. As a result, its conclusions received a cold
reception from delegations from other regions. Member states by and
large felt the matter was not ripe for consideration by the Board.
In the end, they welcomed the fact that the issue will be considered
by the World Heritage Committee at its upcoming meeting in Quebec in
July 2008, and invited the Director-General to "submit at its 181st
(spring 2009) session a full preliminary study of the technical and
legal aspects of this issue.

31. (SBU) It is not clear how long this period of relative harmony
will last. It may well be short. A slight shift in attitudes would
be all that is needed to leave the U.S. in serious difficulties.
The fact that the U.S. is no longer on the Bureau (the committee of
highly influential members who organize Board meetings) means that
our ability to prevent mischievous items from receiving serious
consideration is much reduced. We must also contend with the
personality of Executive Board Chairman Ya'i who famously remarked

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at a meeting a year ago that he might be a chairman but could not be
neutral. We have seen some indications of a similar attitude on his
part in recent months. He has, for example, openly used the power
of the chair to promote a new normative instrument on indigenous
languages. We will need to stay very much alert for tricky
maneuvers by him that may be contrary to our interests.

32. (SBU) Finally, we will need to be wary of the fact that many of
our colleagues do not measure success or progress as we do. The
relative harmony that prevailed at this meeting is not to everyone's
taste, including many relatively moderate member states. In talking
with our colleagues from other delegations about the most recent
Executive Board, we often hear the complaint that it was boring.
Many of our colleagues regretted that there were no major
controversies to attract international attention, and there was no
agreement to begin negotiation of new international treaties.
Regrettably, many other delegations seem to measure UNESCO's
achievements largely in terms of treaties agreed. Given these
attitudes, we should expect more turbulence in these waters in the
period ahead.


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