Withdrawal from UNESCO is against U.S. Core Values and Counterproductive

The New York City Bar Association has sent a letter to U.S. Congressional leaders expressing its concerns regarding the announcement by the Trump Administration of its intent to withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (“UNESCO”), effective December 31, 2018.

The first concern the letter cites is that the decision to withdraw from UNESCO is not an isolated act, “but part of a pattern of broader unilateral withdrawal and disengagement from international treaties, international institutions and forums of global governance under the Trump Administration….” The letter cites withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, among other agreements, as parts of the pattern, “with the UNESCO withdrawal being just the latest instance of this very concerning progression.”

“Of equal concern,” the letter continues, “is that the decision to disengage from UNESCO represents a hostility to the principles of UNESCO’s mission, and a reassignment of priority away from core values that have been bedrock interests of United States’ policy since the founding of UNESCO and the United Nations. The purpose of UNESCO, as outlined in its constitution, is to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among member states in the fields of education, science, and culture.”

Further, according to the letter, withdrawal from UNESCO threatens the U.S.’s role in the fight against terrorism and the protection of human rights, world peace and security. “Specifically, withdrawal from UNESCO runs contrary not only to the established recognition of the important role played by education and cultural heritage in promoting international peace and security, but the recently documented and acknowledged connection between cultural destruction, terrorism, and genocide,” the letter states.

The letter cites several UN Resolutions intertwined with the work of UNESCO and reminds that the UN Charter “has the status of a ‘treaty’ under U.S. law. Resolutions adopted by the Security Council under its Chapter VII authority ‘have the effect of law for members’ of the United Nations.”

Fulfilling its obligation to implement UN Resolutions 2199 and 2253, Congress enacted the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act in April 2016. The letter describes the act as “a decisive bipartisan acknowledgement that the looting of antiquities is a direct threat to U.S. national security and to humanity’s shared heritage. Congress recognized that by closing the U.S. market to ‘conflict antiquities from Syria,’ the U.S. was cutting off a key source of terrorist financing.”

UN Resolution 2347 specifically acknowledges the “central role played by UNESCO in protecting cultural heritage and promoting culture as an instrument to bring people closer together and foster dialogue, including through the [participation of international law enforcement] in preventing and countering all forms and aspects of trafficking in cultural property and related offenses.” In voting to adopt Resolution 2347, “the United States explicitly acknowledged its commitment to these goals,” states the letter.

The letter urges Congressional leaders to monitor executive compliance with the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act and to “ensure that the United States preserves its stature as a global leader in the fight against terrorism and wanton destruction of culture.”

The letter can be read here.

About the Association
The New York City Bar Association, since its founding in 1870, has been dedicated to maintaining the high ethical standards of the legal profession, promoting reform of the law and access to justice, and providing service to the profession and the public. The Association, through its 24,000 members, continues to work for political, legal and social reform, while implementing innovative means to help the disadvantaged. Protecting the public’s welfare remains one of the Association’s highest priorities.