Cablegate: Unesco Briefing On the November 2008 International

R 241420Z JUL 08




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. Summary: On June 27, 2008, UNESCO briefed Member States on the
organization of the November 2008 International Conference on
Education (ICE) sponsored by UNESCO's Bureau of International
Education (IBE) to be held in Geneva. The topic of this conference
is "Inclusive Education: The Way of the Future". The Secretariat
explained the need for more resources to fund the conference. It
also explained that member states will elect the Conference
President, Vice Presidents from each of the regional groups, and a
Reporter of the ICE. In addition, regional groups must nominate
representatives for the Conference's drafting committee.

2. Most important, comments made during the briefing clearly showed
the danger that the ICE will be used to promote a new normative
instrument on education. Belgian representatives stated their
intention to bring their initiative for greater public regulation of
private education (reftel) to the Conference. Statements from
Norway, France, and others that the Conference outcome must have
follow-up and real impact on UNESCO's education activities make it
likely that the ICE's recommendations will be discussed at the
October 2009 General Conference. That body has the ability to
authorize a negotiation of a new normative instrument. End Summary.

3. Opening remarks made by Assistant Director-General for Education
Nicholas Burnett referenced four international education conferences
to be held over the next twelve months. In addition to the ICE,
Burnett spoke about the Conference on the United Nations Decade of
Education for Sustainable Development (DESD), to be held in Bonn,
Germany, in March 2009, the UNESCO International Conference on Adult
Education (CONFINTEA VI), to be held in Brazil in May 2009, and the
World Conference on Higher Education, to be held in Paris in July
2009. He highlighted the fact that there exists important links
among all four conferences. According to Burnett, inclusive
education will be emphasized at each one, as well as sustainable
development. Following Burnett's comments, Director of the IBE,
Clementina Acedo, gave a presentation on the state of the
preparations for the ICE. A question and answer period followed.

Francophone Belgian Initiative for Private Education Regulation

4. Comments made by Belgian representatives during the question and
answer period revived US concerns regarding the campaign being led
by the government of Belgium's French-speaking Community to push the
issue of state regulation of private education. (reftel) The Belgian
Ambassador to UNESCO, Philippe Kridelka, reaffirmed Belgium's
support for state regulation of private education and indicated that
Belgian representatives would be raising the issue at the ICE. In
particular, the Minister of Education of the French-speaking
Community of Belgium will be attending the ICE and taking part in a
panel on public policy. The unspoken goal of the action planned by
the Belgians may be to ensure that a recommendation on this issue is
placed in the conference's final communiqu, with an eye to bringing
about a discussion at the UNESCO General Conference in October 2009
for a possible normative instrument.

5. When making reference to the May 2008 international seminar
entitled "The State as the Regulator of Education", (reftel)a
non-UNESCO meeting sponsored by the Belgian Francophones but
attended by U.S. Embassy Brussels, IBE representatives and other
countries, Kridelka referred to it as a "preparatory meeting" of the
same nature as the ten official ICE regional preparatory workshops.
More troubling, in responding to Kridelka's remarks, Acedo also
referred to the Brussels meeting as a "preparatory meeting".
(Comment: This is disturbing, because the outcomes of official
workshops will bear directly upon what is discussed at the IBE
conference in November. In addition to three regional preparatory
conferences, such workshops have produced a number of conclusions
that are to be integrated in an ICE reference document to be
published in September 2008. Due to US discomfort with state
regulation of private education (as it is envisioned by the Belgian
Francophones and their supporters), the US is concerned that the
Director of the IBE would place the Brussels meeting on equal
footing with the official ICE workshops and conferences. This
gesture could imply that conclusions drawn at this meeting ought to
enjoy the same weight as that given to the outcomes of the
UNESCO-sanctioned preparatory workshops and conferences. While the
US cannot prevent the Belgians from raising the issue of state
regulation of private education, the US should be able to ensure
that any recommendations that came out of the May 23 Brussels
meeting have no place in the forthcoming reference document.
Discouragingly, Acedo did not make any specific mention of this
fact. End Comment.) (Note: In a private conversation following the
ICE information meeting, the US confirmed with UNESCO
representatives that the Brussels meeting was indeed not an official
ICE preparatory meeting and made it clear that any such reference is

6. Another concern stems from the Belgians' avowed intention to seek
a place on the ICE's drafting committee, the group responsible for
drafting the communique that is agreed upon by all participants at
the end of the conference and which includes broad policy
recommendations. The designation of the drafting committee will take
place on the opening day of the conference, along with the
designation of the ICE bureau members. Specifically, the drafting
committee is to be comprised of two representatives from each
regional group while the bureau is to be comprised of one
representative from each regional group. (Note: It has been decided
already that the bureau's Chairperson is to come from an Arab State
and the Reporter from a Latin American State.) Should Belgium
procure a spot on the drafting committee, this will be an
opportunity for the Belgian Francophones and their supporters to
push their state regulation initiative and move to have the issue
included in the final text of the communique. Our overarching
concern is that, in doing so, the Belgian delegation may succeed in
recommending that the issue of state regulation of private education
be put on the larger UNESCO agenda, which could give momentum to
bringing this issue up at the October 2009 UNESCO General
Conference, the first step toward developing a new normative
instrument (Comment: The U.S. should seek to procure a spot on the
drafting committee as one of the two representatives from our
regional group. End Comment.)

7. During the question and answer period, a number of delegations,
including Canada, Norway and France, expressed concerns about what
"tangible" or "concrete" outcomes will come out of the ICE. The
ensuing discussion further demonstrated the potential for a broad
consensus in favor of a new normative instrument. The Canadian
delegation, which has also expressed opposition to the Belgian
Francophones' agenda, specifically asked what the legal status of
the documents produced by the ICE would be. In response, Acedo
reminded the assembly that recommendations had been adopted at the
2001 and 2004 conferences, and that in 2004 these had simply taken
the form of "messages to the world". The final forms of the texts
that are to come out of the upcoming ICE were to be discussed in
greater depth by the IBE. The Norwegians asked how the eventual
results of the ICE might feed into the next C4/C5 budget framework,
as well as into the Education for All (EFA) and South-South
cooperation initiatives. Both Norwegian and French delegations
seemed eager for a document that entailed specific "actions" or
"outputs", with the French going as far as to say: "We need texts
that lead to actions." The French delegation's comments generally
implied that the central outcome of the ICE ought to be a final text
that demonstrates linkages between the work of the conference's four
main workshops and the work of the drafting committee. Nick Burnett
expressed sympathy for the views expressed above, agreeing that the
ICE ought to produce concrete outcomes that entail a certain measure
of accountability and that feed into UNESCO's broader mission. He
spoke in a general manner of the need to find a "mechanism" by which
one might integrate the outcomes of the ICE into the General
Conference's discussions as well as into the regular UNESCO budget.

Strategy for Countering the Francophone Belgian Initiative

8. The USG's position regarding the ICE's endorsement of a new
normative instrument on the right to education should ultimately be
governed more by the substantive intent, wording, and scope embodied
in such an instrument than by its title or the form it takes (i.e.,
a "convention" versus a "recommendation" versus a "declaration" or
"charter"). The U.S. would of course prefer to see no follow-on
UNESCO normative instrument result from this meeting. However, we
realize that we cannot discount the possibility of such an
initiative emerging from the conference. If this occurs, then in
the hierarchy of UNESCO normative instruments (judged in terms of
descending acceptability for the U.S.), a declaration would be the
least objectionable; a recommendation, more objectionable; and a
convention the most objectionable. As UNESCO documents go, a
declaration is largely hortatory; a recommendation politically, but
not legally, binding on all UNESCO Member States; and a convention,
legally binding but only on those Member States that ratify it.

9. This breakdown of instrument types at UNESCO has potential
implications for U.S. negotiating strategy during the ICE
conference, particularly if the Conference proposes that UNESCO
adopt a new "normative" instrument to address the issue of state
regulation of private education. In that event, we should try our
best to steer the debate towards adoption of either a declaration or
recommendation, and avoid if at all possible a conference decision
that mandates a legally binding normative instrument (e.g.,
convention, treaty, or international agreement). If, despite our
best efforts, the ICE conference decides to urge UNESCO to create a
new, legally binding instrument on education, a potential fallback
strategy might be to try to steer UNESCO towards adopting a
"protocol" to the 1960 UNESCO Convention Against Discrimination in
Education rather than adopting an entirely new stand-alone
convention. A stand-alone convention would be more likely lead to
an open-ended endorsement of dangerous, new educational norms, and
accompanying legal rights, that extend far beyond the finite scope
of the 1960 Convention, which prohibits discrimination in education.
The benefit of a protocol is that, as a subsidiary companion
instrument to the 1960 Convention, it could afford us a greater
chance to remain within the existing scope of that Convention and
still address the main theme of the ICE Conference, i.e., "inclusive
education" for those in society who are currently excluded from the
protections of the 1960 Convention.

Education and Food

10. The Malaysian Ambassador brought up the issue of rising oil
prices and the fact that the budgets of national governments in
certain developing countries are being increasingly channeled
towards paying for oil subsidies and thus leaving less and less
money for allocations to the education sector. Certain developing
countries, he pointed out, are currently facing a situation where in
the ICE ideal of a more inclusive educational system is inherently
at odds with the reality of their national financial situation. He
concluded his remarks by asking if the conference would be
addressing this problem. In his response, Burnett acknowledged the
gravity of the problem described by the Malaysian Ambassador and,
then, went on to bring up the threat also posed to developing
countries by rising food prices, lamenting the fact that both the
oil and food crises impact the amount of funds that a given family
has available for a child's schooling. Though admitting that he was
unsure how to best deal with such problems, Burnett acknowledged
that they needed to be addressed. It was unclear what Burnett meant
by this, but his comment was troubling and could lead to more
involvement by UNESCO in international agricultural and energy
issues. (Note: The Director General held an information meeting
for the upcoming Executive Board on July 18 and both the Ambassadors
from Brazil and Malaysia raised the need for UNESCO to address the
issue of food and energy for the same reasons cited above. The
Director General's response was that other UN agencies address these
issues. End Note.)

Funding the ICE Conference

11. The final major issue raised at the ICE information meeting was
the fact that the ICE faces a considerable funding gap. The Swiss
delegation announced that it would make an additional donation of
USD 100,000 towards the ICE budget, a donation that follows their
original voluntary contribution of 100,000 CHF. Even with this
donation, USD 572,000 remains to be mobilized before November in
order to meet the USD 2,172,000 budget envisioned. The Secretariat
appealed to Member States for funds but admitted, in a response to
the Indonesian Ambassador, that relatively little has been done to
engage the private sector to help fund the ICE. At the moment, the
private sector has only been solicited for the funding of an
exhibition to be on display during the four-day conference. Acedo
said, however, that she was confident that the private sector would
soon be involved to a greater extent and, moreover, that private
sector contributors would be recognized for their involvement. Both
the Indonesian and Afghani delegations made a point of displaying
their support for greater private sector involvement.


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