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UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) is a specialized agency of the United Nations established in 1945. Its stated purpose is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through education, science, and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and the human rights and fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the UN Charter. In total, 191 nations belong to UNESCO. The organization is based in Paris, with over 50 field offices and several institutes and offices throughout the world. Most of the field offices are "cluster" offices covering three or more countries; there are also national and regional offices. UNESCO pursues its action through five major programmes: education, natural sciences, social and human sciences, culture, and communication and information. Projects sponsored by UNESCO include literacy, technical, and teacher-training programmes; international science programmes; the promotion of independent media and freedom of the press; regional and cultural history projects, the promotion of cultural diversity; international cooperation agreements to secure the world cultural and natural heritage and to preserve human rights; and attempts to bridge the world-wide digital divide.

As early as 1942, in wartime, the governments of the European countries, which were confronting Nazi Germany and its allies met in the United Kingdom for the Conference of Allied Ministers of Education (CAME).

The Second World War was far from over, yet those countries were looking for ways and means to reconstruct their systems of education once peace was restored. Very quickly, the project gained momentum and soon took on a universal note. New governments, including that of the United States, decided to join in.

Upon the proposal of CAME, a United Nations Conference for the establishment of an educational and cultural organization (ECO/CONF) was convened in London from 1 to 16 November 1945. Scarcely had the war ended when the conference opened. It gathered together the representatives of forty-four countries. Spurred on by France and the United Kingdom, two countries that had known great hardship during the conflict, the delegates decided to create an organization that would embody a genuine culture of peace. In their eyes, the new organization must establish the “intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind” and, in so doing, prevent the outbreak of another world war.

At the end of the conference, thirty-seven countries made the birth of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The Constitution of UNESCO, signed on 16 November 1945, came into force on 4 November 1946 after ratification by twenty countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, France, Greece, India, Lebanon, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States. The first session of the General Conference of UNESCO took place in Paris from 19 November to 10 December 1946 with the participation of representatives from 30 governments entitled to vote.

The ashes of the Second World War are reflected in the composition of the founding Member States of UNESCO. Japan and the Federal Republic of Germany became members in 1951, Spain in 1953. Other major historical factors, as the Cold War, the decolonization process and the dissolution of the USSR, also left their trace on UNESCO. The USSR joined UNESCO in 1954 and was replaced by the Russian Federation in 1992. 19 African States became Members in 1960. 12 Republics emanating from the former Soviet Union entered UNESCO in 1991-93.

As a consequence of the entry of the People’s Republic of China into the United Nations it has been the only legitimate representative of China at UNESCO since 1971. The German Democratic Republic was a Member from 1972 to 1990, when it joined the Federal Republic of Germany.

Origins of UNESCO

The main predecessors of UNESCO were:
• The International Committee of Intellectual Co-operation (CICI), Geneva 1922-1946,
• its executing agency, the International Institute of Intellectual Co-operation (IICI), Paris, 1925-1946
• the International Bureau of Education (IBE), Geneva, 1925-1968; the latter has since 1969 been part of the UNESCO Secretariat under its own statutes.

Directors-General

The new Director-General is elected every four years by the General Conference. Under his authority, the Secretariat is expected to translate into reality the programmes approved by the General Conference.

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