UNESCO has suspended the voting rights of Israel and the United States, two years after they stopped paying dues to the UN’s cultural arm in protest over its granting full membership to the Palestinians, a UNESCO source told Reuters.
Both countries decided to cancel their funding in October 2011. The American decision was blamed on US laws that prohibit funding to any UN agency that implies recognition of Palestinian demands for their own state.
The US missed a Friday deadline to provide an official justification of its non-payment and a plan to pay back its missed dues, the UNESCO source said, automatically triggering the suspension of voting rights.
Neither the United States nor Israel “presented the necessary documentation this morning to avoid losing their right to vote,” a source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Two separate diplomatic sources also confirmed the deadline had been missed, triggering the suspension of voting rights.
There was no immediate comment at the office of the US envoy to the UN agency.
UNESCO designates World Heritage sites, promotes global education and supports press freedom among other tasks.
The withdrawal of US funding – which to date amounts to about $240 million or some 22 percent of UNESCO’s budget – has plunged the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization into a financial crisis, forcing it to cut programs and slash spending.
With the US and Israel withdrawing their contributions UNESCO’s budget fell from $653 million to $507 million.
The reduced budget means some 300 people at UNESCO are in danger of losing their jobs. In 2012 the UN agency employed 1,200 people at its headquarters in Paris and 900 around the world.
UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova, who was re-elected in October, raised $75 million in a bid to deal with the agency’s financial crisis.
“The list of countries that will lose their voting rights will be announced probably tomorrow (Saturday) in a plenary session,” the same UNESCO source said.
The loss of voting rights for two countries member comes as Washington tries to keep US-brokered peace negotiations between Israel and Palestinians afloat.
Both parties have signaled the lack of progress in the talks, revived in July after a three-year hiatus but stymied over Israeli plans to continue building illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The Palestinians have so far failed in their bid to become a full member of the UN, but their UNESCO membership is seen as a potential first step towards UN recognition of statehood. In November 2012, the UN General Assembly granted Palestine non-member state status in a landslide vote.
(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)