Under Article I, paragraph 1,of its Constitution, adopted on 16 November 1945, UNESCO’s purpose is to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion, by the Charter of the United Nations.
Accordingly, in 1978 the Executive Board of UNESCO laid down a confidential procedure for the examination of complaints (called communications) received by the Organization concerning alleged violations of human rights in its fields of competence, namely education, science, culture and communication. This procedure is set out in 104 EX/Decision 3.3 of the Executive Board. It is implemented by a subsidiary organ of the Executive Board, the Committee on Conventions and Recommendations.
Purpose of the procedure
The purpose of the procedure is to seek a friendly solution to cases brought to UNESCO’s attention:
- by establishing a dialogue with the governments concerned to examine with them in complete confidentiality what could be done to promote human rights falling within the Organization’s competence;
- by acting “in a spirit of international cooperation, conciliation and mutual understanding … and recalling that UNESCO should not play the role of an international judicial body” (paragraph 7 of 104 EX/Decision 3.3).
Specific nature of the procedure
This procedure has certain specific features in comparison with similar procedures existing in other agencies of the United Nations system:
- the mechanism is not treaty-based; it is a decision of the Executive Board which defines the procedure;
- a complaint may be made against any Member State precisely because it is a Member of UNESCO;
- the complaint will be examined following a procedure that retains its individual nature from start to finish, unlike procedures that consider individual communications as sources of information relating to a given situation that reveal a set of flagrant and systematic human rights violations;
- every effort is made under this procedure to avoid a conflictual and accusatory context. The aim is to improve the lot of the alleged victims, not to condemn the governments concerned, and certainly not to penalize them.
Role of the Director-General
In 104 EX/Decision 3.3, the Executive Board recalled and confirmed the role that the Director-General has always played with regard to the promotion of human rights. In accordance with well-established practice, in the context of his right of intercession, which was recognized by the General Conference, in particular in its resolution 19 C/12.1 he has had occasion personally to make various humanitarian representations on behalf of persons, alleged victims of human rights violations in UNESCOs fields of competence, whose cases demanded urgent examination.
Summary of the results of the application of the procedure laid down by 104 EX/Decision 3.3
From 1978 to 2013, 586 communications were considered by the Committee on Conventions and Recommendations. The results concerning alleged victims (or groups of alleged victims) for this period may be broken down as follows:
- released/acquitted : 221
- released after completion of sentence : 16
- authorized to leave the State in question : 21
- authorized to return to the State in question : 35
- able to resume their employment or activity : 29
- able to resume a banned publication or broadcast programme : 14
- able to resume normal life following a cessation of threats : 5
- able to benefit from changes in certain education laws which werediscriminatory towards ethnic or : 10
- religious minorities able to obtain passports and/or grants, or receive diplomas : 12
- able to resume studies : 9
- Total number of communications settled : 372
(The 214 remaining cases concern communications that are inadmissible or whose examination has been suspended or is under way.)
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