Cablegate: Unesco's Autumn 2008 Executive Board: Category 2


DE RUEHFR #2106/01 3220636
R 170636Z NOV 08





The message is sensitive but unclassified.

1. (SBU) Summary: At UNESCO's autumn 2008 Executive Board, the U.S.
clashed with a coalition of developing countries over Category 2
institutes - independent institutes that are paid for by their host
countries but are under the aegis of UNESCO. Led by India and South
Africa, these countries resisted a U.S. effort to amend the
Secretariat's draft strategy for these institutes that would have
required they have an independent evaluation before renewal of their
agreement with UNESCO. Board members in the end postponed
consideration of the strategy document to the Executive Board's
spring 2009 session. A U.S. effort to open debate and ask questions
about a proposed Category 2 institute of African culture at the
Obasanjo presidential library in Nigeria was met with indignation by
South Africa who stated that it was impugning the "honor of Africa."
End Summary.

2. (SBU) North-South tensions flared on several occasions during the
September 30-October 21 (180th) session of UNESCO's Executive Board
(septels). The most intense clash came as UNESCO moved to consider
issues regarding Category 2 institutes, independent institutes that
are financed by their host governments but are under UNESCO's aegis.
There were two related items on the agenda. The first asked member
states to approve a Secretariat-proposed revised strategy and new
model agreement that would govern UNESCO's relationships with all of
these institutes. The second item asked the Board to recommend to
the General Conference that it approve the establishment of three
specific Category 2 institutes: an institute on human rights issues
in Buenos Aires, an institute on water issues in the Dominican
Republic, and an institute on African culture at the Obasanjo
Presidential Library in Nigeria.

Category 2 Center Strategy

3. (SBU) The Organization's October 2007 General Conference
mandated that the Secretariat produce at this Executive Board
session a strategy for better using the centers and dealing with the
administrative burden that their rapidly growing number poses.
(Note: There are currently 40 such institutes with plans for at
least another 15-20 at various stages of development. Under
existing rules, Secretariat members attend the Board meetings of
each institute and are expected to coordinate regularly with them.
In return, each institute is permitted to use the UNESCO name and
logo. End Note.) At the 2007 General Conference and subsequently,
the U.S. strongly supported the need for a new strategy and urged
that it provide for a six-year sunset clause and an independent
evaluation of the contribution these institutes make to UNESCO's
work before their agreements with UNESCO are renewed.

4. (SBU) Prior to the most recent Executive Board session it was
clear that some developing countries had misgivings about revising
the strategy and, in particular, about including a provision for
regular evaluation of institutes. India notably took the lead in
stirring anxieties among the developing countries, arguing that the
cost of independent evaluation would be too high and that the U.S.
was trying to prevent developing countries from having institutes by
making them too costly for any but rich countries to afford.
(Comment: While there are more Category 2 institutes in rich
countries than poor ones, as might be expected, it is absolutely
untrue to say the developed countries are trying to prevent poorer
countries from having them. There are currently Category 2
institutes in such countries as Malawi, Burkina Faso, and India
itself. End Comment.)

5. (SBU) Despite this opposition, as the session began it appeared
that a deal might be possible. Many delegations - from both rich
and poor countries - agreed that UNESCO needed to get a better grip
on these institutes. The Indian delegation told us in confidence
that what concerned them most was the possibility that an evaluation
might address the efficiency with which these independent institutes
are run. The U.S. delegation said that it was alright to respect
the independence of the institutes as long as it was balanced by
appropriate accountability. The Indian Ambassador suggested
privately to the U.S. Ambassador that an open-ended working group
could be convened to iron out differences when the Board considered
the issue. The U.S. delegation, therefore, submitted proposed
amendments to the draft strategy that would have provided for sunset
clauses, criteria for establishing centers, and independent
evaluation, and would have placed clear limits on the amount of
assistance that UNESCO provides to Category 2 institutes.

6. (SBU) When the proposed Category 2 center strategy came up for
consideration in a joint meeting of UNESCO's Finance and Program
Commissions, Program Commission Chair, Argentine Senator Daniel
Filmus opened the floor to general comments. This gave India the
opportunity to argue the institutes pose no burden on UNESCO, and
that institutes cannot be subjected to uniform standards, since
conditions in the developing world are different. Many other
developing countries, notably including Brazil and South Africa,
spoke up to support India. Many states also said the proposed new

strategy should not be applied to existing institutes.

7. (SBU) The U.S. stated that we were not seeking to prevent the
establishment of new institutes but rather ensure that the direct
and indirect costs of these institutes to the Organization are
limited as much as possible. The U.S. then recommended the
establishment of a working group, which was supported by a number of
other countries. However, India reversed its previous position and
opposed the establishment of the working group. Following India's
lead, other countries rejected the idea of a working group as well.
When India announced that there was little support for a working
group, the representative of the Philippines intervened and said
that she had taken copious notes during the discussion and that
India was wrong, and that in fact there was significant support for
a working group. The Philippine representative then received a
public dressing down from the Indian Ambassador for breaking
solidarity with the Asia-Pacific Group in a public session. The
Philippine representative responded with an abject apology to her
Indian colleague.

8. (SBU) The Argentine Chair then directed the members to consider
an Indian draft decision that would have approved the strategy while
stipulating that it would not apply to existing institutes until
their agreements with UNESCO were renewed. The U.S. amendments were
not considered. However, having heard the tenor of the debate, the
Indians decided to amend their own decision from the floor. In
revised form, it merely welcomed the Secretariat's proposed
strategy, invited Member States to send the Director-General
comments on it, and decided to consider the matter again at the
Board's next session in spring 2009. The decision was adopted in
this form.

Proposed Nigerian Institute

9. (SBU) It was late in the evening, and emotions were already
strained when the Argentine, Dominican, and Nigerian institutes came
up for consideration. As many other observers had left, a wave of
young Nigerian men, carrying still and video cameras, filled the
vacant chairs. A Nigerian minister sat behind his country's
nameplate in place of Nigeria's regular ambassador.

10. (SBU) The chairman announced that the Bureau (conference
steering committee) had recommended all three institutes be
considered without debate. The U.S. asked for the floor and said
that, given the importance of Category 2 institutes, we thought
there should be discussion. The chair then allowed debate but said
the three institutes must be considered together and not separately,
and that delegations would have up to ten minutes speaking time to
comment on all of them. (Note: The U.S. had learned that the
Secretariat's third and most recent feasibility study completed in
June 2008 on the Nigerian proposal had raised serious concerns about
an unresolved court case regarding the property rights at the
proposed site and had found that little thinking had been done on
the proposed institute's vision, goals, objectives, and program.
End Note.)

11. (SBU) The representative of South Africa publicly attacked the
U.S. Ambassador for "disreputable conduct" because the U.S. was not
abiding by the "decision" of the Bureau recommending no debate,
which he said was the result of three hours of heated discussion at
the previous Bureau meeting. Ambassador Oliver responded by saying
that she would not tolerate those kinds of personal comments, and
that any country had the right to discuss any item it wished to at
the Executive Board regardless of what was "decided" in the Bureau,
especially since the Bureau was only empowered to make
recommendations, not decisions. (Comment: There was a major
disagreement in the Bureau on the Nigerian Center as several Bureau
members opposed the Center's going forward given all the unresolved
issues relating to the Center. A compromise had been reached in the
recommended decision which stated that the Director General could
only sign the UNESCO agreement with the Government of Nigeria after
the court case had been resolved. The U.S. supported the compromise

12. (SBU) Later on the debate, after more than a dozen states had
taken the floor to say in almost exactly the same words that they
supported all three of the proposed institutes, the U.S. intervened
again to congratulate the governments of Argentina, the Dominican
Republic, and Nigeria for their proposed Cat II institutes. The
U.S. then went on to ask questions about the the status of the
Nigerian court case and about the center's vision, goals,
objectives, and program. In response, the Nigerian minister blandly
assured the Board that the court case had been settled (N.B. a claim
contradicted by news reports) and that the Nigerian Government is
committed to supporting the center over the long-term. The South
African delegation took the floor to complain that the U.S.
questions had impugned the "honor of Africa." After this, the chair
announced that the decision in favor of all three centers had been
adopted. There was general jubilation among the large numbers of
Nigerians who had by this time filled the room.

13. (SBU) Comment: This discussion, especially consideration of
the proposed Nigerian institute, was one of the most emotional we
have experienced at UNESCO in quite some time. Although it took
place against a wider backdrop of North-South tensions on other
issues (septel), we suspect that many developing countries were
motivated less by a strong sense of group solidarity and more by a
desire to protect their particular centers. The Indians were
clearly concerned about what an evaluation of their institutes might
show, and, other delegations tell us, the Indians warned developing
country delegations behind the scenes that institutes in their
countries might be closed if the U.S. initiative was adopted. The
Argentines told us they worried approval for their institute might
be delayed if it became caught up in a quarrel over a new strategy.
For their part, the Nigerians were determined to have their
institute approved come what may, and many developing countries were
happy to oblige them in hopes of having the favor returned later.

14. (SBU) Comment Continued: The whole affair demonstrates how
hard it is for many UNESCO Member States to put the interests of the
Organization ahead of their own. Prior to the session most Member
States appeared to agree that Category 2 institutes should be better
regulated and their costs to the Organization kept limited, but they
lost their nerve when presented with a concrete and effective plan
for doing so.


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