The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN). Its declared purpose is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through educational, scientific, and cultural reforms in order to increase universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and human rights along with fundamental freedom proclaimed in the United Nations Charter. It is the heir of the League of Nations' International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation.

UNESCO has 195 member states and nine associate members. Most of its field offices are "cluster" offices covering three or more countries; national and regional offices also exist.

UNESCO pursues its objectives through five major programs: education, natural sciences, social/human sciences, culture and communication/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, translations of world literature, international cooperation agreements to secure the world cultural and natural heritage (World Heritage Sites) and to preserve human rights, and attempts to bridge the worldwide digital divide. It is also a member of the United Nations Development Group.

UNESCO's aim is "to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information". Other priorities of the organization include attaining quality Education For All and lifelong learning, addressing emerging social and ethical challenges, fostering cultural diversity, a culture of peace and building inclusive knowledge societies through information and communication.

The broad goals and concrete objectives of the international community – as set out in the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – underpin all UNESCO's strategies and activities.


UNESCO and its mandate for international co-operation can be traced back to the League of Nations resolution on 21 September 1921, to elect a Commission to study feasibility. On 18 December 1925, the International Bureau of Education (IBE) began work as a non-governmental organization in the service of international educational development. However, the work of these predecessor organizations was largely interrupted by the onset of World War II.

After the signing of the Atlantic Charter and the Declaration of the United Nations, the Conference of Allied Ministers of Education (CAME) began meetings in London which continued between 16 November 1942 to 5 December 1945. On 30 October 1943, the necessity for an international organization was expressed in the Moscow Declaration, agreed upon by China, the United Kingdom, the United States and the USSR. This was followed by the Dumbarton Oaks Conference proposals of 9 October 1944. Upon the proposal of CAME and in accordance with the recommendations of the United Nations Conference on International Organization (UNCIO), held in San Francisco in April–June 1945, a United Nations Conference for the establishment of an educational and cultural organization (ECO/CONF) was convened in London 1–16 November 1945 with 44 governments represented. A prominent figure in the initiative for UNESCO was Rab Butler, the Minister of Education for the United Kingdom. At the ECO/CONF, the Constitution of UNESCO was introduced and signed by 37 countries, and a Preparatory Commission was established. The Preparatory Commission operated between 16 November 1945, and 4 November 1946—the date when UNESCO's Constitution came into force with the deposit of the twentieth ratification by a member state.

The first General Conference took place from 19 November to 10 December 1946, and elected Dr. Julian Huxley to the post of Director-General. The Constitution was amended in November 1954 when the General Conference resolved that members of the Executive Board would be representatives of the governments of the States of which they are nationals and would not, as before, act in their personal capacity. This change in governance distinguished UNESCO from its predecessor, the CICI, in terms of how member states would work together in the organization's fields of competence. As member states worked together over time to realize UNESCO's mandate, political and historical factors have shaped the organization's operations in particular during the Cold War, the decolonization process, and the dissolution of the USSR.

Among the major achievements of the organization is its work against racism, for example through influential statements on race starting with a declaration of anthropologists (among them was Claude Lévi-Strauss) and other scientists in 1950 and concluding with the 1978 Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice. In 1956, the Republic of South Africa withdrew from UNESCO claiming that some of the organization's publications amounted to "interference" in the country's "racial problems." South Africa rejoined the organization in 1994 under the leadership of Nelson Mandela.

UNESCO's early work in the field of education included the pilot project on fundamental education in the Marbial Valley, Haiti, started in 1947. This project was followed by expert missions to other countries, including, for example, a mission to Afghanistan in 1949. In 1948, UNESCO recommended that Member States should make free primary education compulsory and universal. In 1990 the World Conference on Education for All, in Jomtien, Thailand, launched a global movement to provide basic education for all children, youths and adults. Ten years later, the 2000 World Education Forum held in Dakar, Senegal, led member governments to commit to achieving basic education for all by 2015.

UNESCO's early activities in the field of culture included, for example, the Nubia Campaign, launched in 1960. The purpose of the campaign was to move the Great Temple of Abu Simbel to keep it from being swamped by the Nile after construction of the Aswan Dam. During the 20-year campaign, 22 monuments and architectural complexes were relocated. This was the first and largest in a series of campaigns including Mohenjo-daro (Pakistan), Fes (Morocco), Kathmandu (Nepal), Borobudur (Indonesia) and the Acropolis (Greece). The organization's work on heritage led to the adoption, in 1972, of the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. The World Heritage Committee was established in 1976 and the first sites inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1978. Since then important legal instruments on cultural heritage and diversity have been adopted by UNESCO member states in 2003 (Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage) and 2005 (Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions).

An intergovernmental meeting of UNESCO in Paris in December 1951 led to the creation of the European Council for Nuclear Research, which was responsible for establishing the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in 1954.

Arid Zone programming, 1948–1966, is another example of an early major UNESCO project in the field of natural sciences. In 1968, UNESCO organized the first intergovernmental conference aimed at reconciling the environment and development, a problem which continues to be addressed in the field of sustainable development. The main outcome of the 1968 conference was the creation of UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme.

In the field of communication, the free flow of information has been a priority for UNESCO from its beginnings. In the years immediately following World War II, efforts were concentrated on reconstruction and on the identification of needs for means of mass communication around the world. UNESCO started organizing training and education for journalists in the 1950s. In response to calls for a "New World Information and Communication Order" in the late 1970s, UNESCO established the International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems, which produced the 1980 MacBride report (named after the Chair of the Commission, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Seán MacBride). Following the MacBride report, UNESCO introduced the Information Society for All programme and Toward Knowledge Societies programme in the lead up to the World Summit on the Information Society in 2003 (Geneva) and 2005 (Tunis).

In 2011, Palestine became a UNESCO member following a vote in which 107 member states supported and 14 opposed. Laws passed in the United States in 1990 and 1994 mean that it cannot contribute financially to any UN organisation that accepts Palestine as a full member. As a result, it withdrew its funding which accounted for about 22% of UNESCO's budget. Israel also reacted to Palestine's admittance to UNESCO by freezing Israel payments to the UNESCO and imposing sanctions to the Palestinian Authority, claiming that Palestine's admittance would be detrimental "to potential peace talks". Two years after they stopped paying their dues to UNESCO, US and Israel lost UNESCO voting rights in 2013.


UNESCO implements its activities through the five programme areas: education, natural sciences, social and human sciences, culture, and communication and information.

  • Education: UNESCO supports research in comparative education; and provide expertise and fosters partnerships to strengthen national educational leadership and the capacity of countries to offer quality education for all. This includes the

UNESCO does not accredit institutions of higher learning.


UNESCO and its specialized institutions issue a number of magazines.

The UNESCO Courier magazine states its mission to "promote UNESCO’s ideals, maintain a platform for the dialogue between cultures and provide a forum for international debate." Since March 2006 it is available online, with limited printed issues. Its articles express the opinions of the authors which are not necessarily the opinions of UNESCO. As of 2016, the latest issue posted was October–December 2011.

In 1950 UNESCO initiated the quarterly review Impact of Science on Society (also known as Impact) to discuss the influence of science on society.

Official UNESCO NGOs

UNESCO has official relations with 322 international non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Most of these are what UNESCO calls "operational", a select few are "formal". The highest form of affiliation to UNESCO is "formal associate", and the 22 NGOs with formal associate (ASC) relations occupying offices at UNESCO are:

IBInternational Baccalaureate
CCIVSCo-ordinating Committee for International Voluntary Service
EIEducation International
IAUInternational Association of Universities
IFTCInternational Council for Film, Television and Audiovisual Communication
ICPHSInternational Council for Philosophy and Humanistic Studies which publishes Diogenes
ICSUInternational Council for Science
ICOMInternational Council of Museums
ICSSPEInternational Council of Sport Science and Physical Education
ICAInternational Council on Archives
ICOMOSInternational Council on Monuments and Sites
IFJInternational Federation of Journalists
IFLAInternational Federation of Library Associations and Institutions
IFPAInternational Federation of Poetry Associations
IMCInternational Music Council
IPAInternational Police Association
INSULAInternational Scientific Council for Island Development
ISSCInternational Social Science Council
ITIInternational Theatre Institute
IUCNInternational Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources
IUTAOInternational Union of Technical Associations and Organizations
UIAUnion of International Associations
WANWorld Association of Newspapers
WFEOWorld Federation of Engineering Organizations
WFUCAWorld Federation of UNESCO Clubs, Centres and Associations

Institutes and centres

The institutes are specialized departments of the organization that support UNESCO's programme, providing specialized support for cluster and national offices.

IBEInternational Bureau of EducationGeneva
UILUNESCO Institute for Lifelong LearningHamburg
IIEPUNESCO International Institute for Educational PlanningParis (headquarters) and Buenos Aires (regional office)
IITEUNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in EducationMoscow
IICBAUNESCO International Institute for Capacity Building in AfricaAddis Ababa
IESALCUNESCO International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the CaribbeanCaracas
UICTVETUNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and TrainingBonn
CEPESUNESCO European Centre for Higher EducationBucharest
UNESCO-IHEUNESCO-IHE Institute for Water EducationDelft
ICTPInternational Centre for Theoretical PhysicsTrieste
UISUNESCO Institute for StatisticsMontreal
UNESCO VGUNESCO Centre British Virgin Islands


UNESCO awards 22 prizes in education, science, culture and peace:

Inactive prizes

International Days observed at UNESCO

International Days

27 JanuaryInternational Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust
13 FebruaryWorld Radio Day
21 FebruaryInternational Mother Language Day
8 MarchInternational Women's Day
20 MarchInternational Francophonie Day
21 MarchInternational Day of Nowruz
21 MarchWorld Poetry Day
21 MarchInternational Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
22 MarchWorld Day for Water
23 AprilWorld Book and Copyright Day
30 AprilInternational Jazz Day
3 MayWorld Press Freedom Day
21 MayWorld Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development
22 MayInternational Day for Biological Diversity
25 MayAfrica Day / Africa Week
5 JuneWorld Environment Day
8 JuneWorld Oceans Day
21 JuneInternational Yoga Day
9 AugustInternational Day of the World's Indigenous People
12 AugustInternational Youth Day
23 AugustInternational Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition
8 SeptemberInternational Literacy Day
15 SeptemberInternational Day of Democracy
21 SeptemberInternational Day of Peace
5 OctoberWorld Teachers' Day
2nd Wednesday in OctoberInternational Day for Disaster Reduction
17 OctoberInternational Day for the Eradication of Poverty
20 OctoberWorld Statistics Day
27 OctoberWorld Day for Audiovisual Heritage
10 NovemberWorld Science Day for Peace and Development
3rd Thursday in NovemberWorld Philosophy Day
16 NovemberInternational Day for Tolerance
19 NovemberInternational Men's Day
25 NovemberInternational Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
29 NovemberInternational Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People
1 DecemberWorld AIDS Day
10 DecemberHuman Rights Day
18 DecemberInternational Migrants Day

Member states

UNESCO counts 195 member states and 9 associate members. Some members are not independent states and some members have additional National Organizing Committees from some of their dependent territories. UNESCO state parties are the United Nations member states (except Liechtenstein), Cook Islands, Niue, and the State of Palestine.

Governing bodies


Elections for the renewal of the position of Director-General took place in Paris from 7 to 23 September 2009. Eight candidates ran for the position, and 58 countries voted for them. The Executive Council gathered from 7 to 23 September, the vote itself beginning on the 17th. Irina Bokova was elected the new Director-General.

The list of the Directors-General of UNESCO since its establishment in 1946 is as follows:

Irina Bokova Bulgaria2009–present
Koïchiro Matsuura Japan1999–2009
Federico Mayor Zaragoza Spain1987–99
Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow Senegal1974–87
René Maheu France1961–74; acting 1961
Vittorino Veronese Italy1958–61
Luther Evans United States1953–58
John Wilkinson Taylor United Statesacting 1952–53
Jaime Torres Bodet Mexico1948–52
Julian Huxley United Kingdom1946–48

General Conference

This is the list of the sessions of UNESCO General Conference held since 1946:

SessionLocationYearChaired byfrom
38thParis2015Stanley Mutumba Simataa Namibia
37thParis2013Hao Ping China
36thParis2011Katalin Bogyay Hungary
35thParis2009Davidson Hepburn Bahamas
34thParis2007George N. Anastassopoulos Greece
33rdParis2005Musa Bin Jaafar Bin Hassan Oman
32ndParis2003Michael Omolewa Nigeria
31stParis2001Ahmad Jalali Iran
30thParis1999Jaroslava Moserova Czech Republic
29thParis1997Eduardo Portella Brazil
28thParis1995Torben Krogh Denmark
27thParis1993Ahmed Saleh Sayyad Yemen
26thParis1991Bethwell Allan Ogot Kenya
25thParis1989Anwar Ibrahim Malaysia
24thParis1987Guillermo Putzeys Alvarez Guatemala
23rdSofia1985Nikolai Todorov Bulgaria
22ndParis1983Saïd Tell Jordan
4th extraordinaryParis1982
21stBelgrade1980Ivo Margan Yugoslavia
20thParis1978Napoléon LeBlanc Canada
19thNairobi1976Taaita Toweett Kenya
18thParis1974Magda Jóború Hungary
3rd extraordinaryParis1973
17thParis1972Toru Haguiwara Japan
16thParis1970Atilio Dell'Oro Maini Argentina
15thParis1968Willian Eteki-Mboumoua Cameroon
14thParis1966Bedrettin Tuncel Turkey
13thParis1964Norair Sisakian Armenian SSR
12thParis1962Paulo de Berrêdo Carneiro Brazil
11thParis1960Akale-Work Abte-Wold Ethiopia
10thParis1958Jean Berthoin France
9thNew Delhi1956Abul Kalam Azad India
8thMontevideo1954Justino Zavala Muñiz Uruguay
2nd extraordinaryParis1953
7thParis1952Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan India
6thParis1951Howland H. Sargeant United States
5thFlorence1950Stefano Jacini Italy
4thParis1949Edward Ronald Walker Australia
1st extraordinaryParis1948
3rdBeirut1948Hamid Bey Frangie Lebanon
2ndMexico City1947Manuel Gual Vidal Mexico
1stParis1946Léon Blum France

Executive Board

TermGroup I
(9 seats)
Group II
(7 seats)
Group III
(10 seats)
Group IV
(12 seats)


Group V(a)
(14 seats)
Group V(b)
(7 seats)

 United Kingdom
 United States



 South Korea
 Sri Lanka

 Ivory Coast
 South Africa





 Dominican Republic
 El Salvador
 Saint Kitts and Nevis
 Trinidad and Tobago





 United Kingdom
 United States

 Czech Republic


 Papua New Guinea
 South Korea


 United Arab Emirates


UNESCO headquarters are located at Place de Fontenoy in Paris, France.

UNESCO's field offices across the globe are categorized into four primary office types based upon their function and geographic coverage: cluster offices, national offices, regional bureaus and liaison offices.

Field offices by region

The following list of all UNESCO Field Offices is organized geographically by UNESCO Region and identifies the members states and associate members of UNESCO which are served by each office.


Arab States

Asia and Pacific

Europe and North America

Latin America and the Caribbean


New World Information and Communication order

UNESCO has been the centre of controversy in the past, particularly in its relationships with the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore and the former Soviet Union. During the 1970s and 1980s, UNESCO's support for a "New World Information and Communication Order" and its MacBride report calling for democratization of the media and more egalitarian access to information was condemned in these countries as attempts to curb freedom of the press. UNESCO was perceived by some as a platform for communists and Third World dictators to attack the West, a stark contrast to accusations made by the USSR in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In 1984, the United States withheld its contributions and withdrew from the organization in protest, followed by the United Kingdom in 1985. Singapore took the opportunity to withdraw also at the end of 1985, citing rising membership fees. Following a change of government in 1997, the UK rejoined. The United States rejoined in 2003, followed by Singapore on 8 October 2007.


Israel was admitted to UNESCO in 1949, one year after its creation. Israel has maintained its membership since 1949. In 2010, Israel designated the Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron and Rachel's Tomb, Bethlehem as National Heritage Sites and announced restoration work, prompting criticism from the United States and protests from Palestinians. In October 2010, UNESCO's Executive Board voted to declare the sites as "al-Haram al-Ibrahimi/Tomb of the Patriarchs" and "Bilal bin Rabah Mosque/Rachel's Tomb" and stated that they were "an integral part of the occupied Palestinian Territories" and any unilateral Israeli action was a violation of international law. UNESCO described the sites as significant to "people of the Muslim, Christian and Jewish traditions", and accused Israel of highlighting only the Jewish character of the sites. Israel in turn accused UNESCO of "detach[ing] the Nation of Israel from its heritage", and accused it of being politically motivated. The Rabbi of the Western Wall claimed that Rachel's tomb had not previously been declared a holy Muslim site. Israel partially suspended ties with UNESCO. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon declared that the resolution was a "part of Palestinian escalation". Zevulun Orlev, chairman of the Knesset Education and Culture Committee, referred to the resolutions as an attempt to undermine the mission of UNESCO as a scientific and cultural organization that promotes cooperation throughout the world.

On 28 June 2011, UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, at Jordan's insistence, censured Israel's decision to demolish and rebuild the Mughrabi Gate Bridge in Jerusalem for safety reasons. Israel stated that Jordan had signed an agreement with Israel stipulating that the existing bridge must be dismantled for safety reasons; Jordan disputed the agreement, saying it was only signed under U.S. pressure. Israel was also unable to address the UNESCO committee over objections from Egypt.

In January 2014, days before it was scheduled to open, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, "indefinitely postponed" and effectively cancelled an exhibit created by the Simon Wiesenthal Center entitled, "The People, The Book, The Land: The 3,500-year relationship between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel." The event was scheduled to run from 21 January through 30 January in Paris. Bokova cancelled the event after representatives of Arab states at UNESCO argued that its display would "harm the peace process". The author of the exhibition, Professor Robert Wistrich of the Hebrew University's Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism, called the cancellation an "appalling act," and characterized Bokova's decision as "an arbitrary act of total cynicism and, really, contempt for the Jewish people and its history." UNESCO amended the decision to cancel the exhibit within the year, and it quickly achieved popularity and was viewed a great success.

Palestinian Authority

Palestinian Youth Magazine controversy

In February 2011, an article was published in a Palestinian youth magazine in which a teenage girl described one of her four role-models as Adolf Hitler. In December 2011, UNESCO, which partly funded the magazine, condemned the material and subsequently withdrew support.

Islamic University of Gaza controversy

In 2012, UNESCO decided to establish a chair at the Islamic University of Gaza in the field of astronomy, astrophysics, and space sciences, fueling much controversy and criticism. Israel's foreign ministry criticized the move and stated that the university supports Hamas (which Israel and other countries designate as a terrorist organization) and houses bomb laboratories for Hamas.

The university has been linked to Hamas in the past. However, the university head, Kamalain Shaath, defended UNESCO, stating that "the Islamic University is a purely academic university that is interested only in education and its development". Israeli ambassador to UNESCO Nimrod Barkan planned to submit a letter of protest with information about the university's ties to Hamas, especially angry that this was the first Palestinian university that UNESCO chose to cooperate with. The Jewish organization B'nai B'rith criticized the move as well.


On 16 and 17 February 2012 UNESCO held a conference entitled, "The Media World after WikiLeaks and News of the World." Despite all six panels being focused on WikiLeaks, no member of WikiLeaks staff were invited to speak. After receiving a complaint from WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson, UNESCO invited him to attend, but did not offer a place on any panels. The offer also came only a week before the conference, which was held in Paris, France. Many of the speakers featured, including David Leigh and Heather Brooke, had spoken out openly against WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange in the past. WikiLeaks released a press statement on 15 February 2012 denouncing UNESCO which stated, "UNESCO has made itself an international human rights joke. To use "freedom of expression" to censor WikiLeaks from a conference about WikiLeaks is an Orwellian absurdity beyond words."

Che Guevara

In 2013, UNESCO announced that the collection "The Life and Works of Ernesto Che Guevara" became part of the Memory of the World Register. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the US congresswoman, condemned this decision, saying the organization acts against its own ideals:

This decision is more than an insult to the families of those Cubans who were lined up and summarily executed by Che and his merciless cronies but it also serves as a direct contradiction to the UNESCO ideals of encouraging peace and universal respect for human rights..

The UN Watch, also condemned this selection of UNESCO.

Listing Nanjing Massacre documents

In 2015, Japan threatened to halt funding for UNESCO over the organization's decision to include documents relating to the 1937 Nanjing massacre in the latest listing for its "Memory of the World" program.

Products or services

  • – Contains over 146,000 UNESCO documents in full text published since 1945 as well as metadata from the collections of the UNESCO Library and documentation centres in Field Offices and Institutes.
  • IDAMS – a software package for processing and analysing numerical data developed, maintained and disseminated by UNESCO. The original package was proprietary but UNESCO has initiated a project to provide it as open source.