United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
Emblem of the United Nations.svg
UNESCO logo English.svg
Formation16 November 1945; 75 years ago (1945-11-16)
TypeUnited Nations specialised agency
Legal statusActive
HeadquartersWorld Heritage Centre
Paris, France
Audrey Azoulay
Parent organization
United Nations Economic and Social Council
A coloured voting box.svg Politics portal

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO[1] French: Organisation des Nations unies pour l'éducation, la science et la culture) is a specialised agency of the United Nations (UN) aimed at promoting world peace and security through international cooperation in education, the sciences, and culture.[2][3] It has 193 member states and 11 associate members,[4] as well as partners in the nongovernmental, intergovernmental, and private sector.[5] Headquartered at the World Heritage Centre in Paris, France, UNESCO has 53 regional field offices[6] and 199 national commissions[7] that facilitate its global mandate.

UNESCO was founded in 1945 as the successor to the League of Nations' International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation.[8] Its constitution establishes the agency's goals, governing structure, and operating framework.[9] UNESCO's founding mission, which was shaped by the Second World War, is to advance peace, sustainable development and human rights by facilitating collaboration and dialogue among nations.[9] It pursues this objective through five major program areas: education, natural sciences, social/human sciences, culture and communication/information. UNESCO sponsors projects that improve literacy, provide technical training and education, advance science, protect independent media and press freedom, preserve regional and cultural history, and promote cultural diversity.

As a focal point for world culture and science, UNESCO's activities have broadened over the years; it assists in the translation and dissemination of world literature, helps establish and secure World Heritage Sites of cultural and natural importance, works to bridge the worldwide digital divide, and creates inclusive knowledge societies through information and communication.[10] UNESCO has launched several initiatives and global movements, such as Education For All, to further advance its core objectives.

UNESCO is governed by the General Conference, composed of member states and associate members, which meets biannually to set the agency's programmes and the budget. It also elects members of the Executive Board, which manages UNESCO's work, and appoints every four years Director-General, who serves as UNESCO's chief administrator. UNESCO is a member of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group,[11] a coalition of UN agencies and organisations aimed at fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals.



UNESCO and its mandate for international cooperation can be traced back to a League of Nations resolution on 21 September 1921, to elect a Commission to study the feasibility of having nations freely share of culture, education and scientific achievements.[12][13] This new body, the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation (ICIC) was created in 1922[14] and counted such figures as Henri Bergson, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Robert A. Millikan, and Gonzague de Reynold among its members (being thus a small commission of the League of Nations essentially centered on Western Europe[15]). The International Institute for Intellectual Cooperation (IIIC) was then created in Paris in September 1924, to act as the executing agency for the ICIC.[16] However, the onset of World War II largely interrupted the work of these predecessor organizations.[17] As for private initiatives, the International Bureau of Education (IBE) began to work as a non-governmental organization in the service of international educational development since December 1925 [18] and joined UNESCO in 2021, after having established a joint commission in 1952.[citation needed]


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 from 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. The idea of UNESCO was largely developed by Rab Butler, the Minister of Education for the United Kingdom, who had a great deal of influence in its development.[19] At the ECO/CONF, the Constitution of UNESCO was introduced and signed by 37 countries, and a Preparatory Commission was established.[20] 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.[21]

The first General Conference took place from 19 November to 10 December 1946, and elected Dr. Julian Huxley to Director-General.[22] 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.[23] This change in governance distinguished UNESCO from its predecessor, the ICIC, in 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.[24][25]


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[26] and concluding with the 1978 Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice.[27] In 1956, the Republic of South Africa withdrew from UNESCO saying that some of the organization's publications amounted to "interference" in the country's "racial problems".[28] South Africa rejoined the organization in 1994 under the leadership of Nelson Mandela.[29][30]

UNESCO's early work in the field of education included the pilot project on fundamental education in the Marbial Valley, Haiti, started in 1947.[31] This project was followed by expert missions to other countries, including, for example, a mission to Afghanistan in 1949.[32] In 1948, UNESCO recommended that Member States should make free primary education compulsory and universal.[33] 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.[34] 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.[35]

UNESCO's early activities in culture included the Nubia Campaign, launched in 1960.[36] The purpose of the campaign was to move the Great Temple of Abu Simbel to keep it from being swamped by the Nile after the 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).[37] 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.[38] The World Heritage Committee was established in 1976 and the first sites inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1978.[39] 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[40]) and 2005 (Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions[41]).

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)[42] later on, in 1954.[citation needed]

Arid Zone programming, 1948–1966, is another example of an early major UNESCO project in the field of natural sciences.[43] In 1968, UNESCO organized the first intergovernmental conference aimed at reconciling the environment and development, a problem that 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.[44]

UNESCO has been credited with the diffusion of national science bureaucracies.[45]

In the field of communication, the "free flow of ideas by word and image" has been in UNESCO's constitution from its beginnings, following the experience of the Second World War when control of information was a factor in indoctrinating populations for aggression.[46] 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.[47] 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,[48] which produced the 1980 MacBride report (named after the chair of the commission, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Seán MacBride).[49] The same year, UNESCO created the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), a multilateral forum designed to promote media development in developing countries.[50] In 1991, UNESCO's General Conference endorsed the Windhoek Declaration on media independence and pluralism, which led the UN General Assembly to declare the date of its adoption, 3 May, as World Press Freedom Day.[51] Since 1997, UNESCO has awarded the UNESCO / Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize every 3 May. In the lead up to the World Summit on the Information Society in 2003 (Geneva) and 2005 (Tunis), UNESCO introduced the Information for All Programme.[52]

21st century

UNESCO admitted Palestine as a member in 2011.[53][54] Laws passed in the United States after Palestine applied for UNESCO and WHO membership in April 1989[55][56] mean that the US cannot contribute financially to any UN organisation that accepts Palestine as a full member.[57][58] As a result, the US withdrew its funding, which had accounted for about 22% of UNESCO's budget.[59] Israel also reacted to Palestine's admittance to UNESCO by freezing Israeli payments to UNESCO and imposing sanctions on the Palestinian Authority,[60] stating that Palestine's admittance would be detrimental "to potential peace talks".[61] Two years after they stopped paying their dues to UNESCO, the US and Israel lost UNESCO voting rights in 2013 without losing the right to be elected; thus, the US was elected as a member of the Executive Board for the period 2016–19.[62] In 2019, Israel left UNESCO after 69 years of membership, with Israel's ambassador to the UN Danny Danon writing: "UNESCO is the body that continually rewrites history, including by erasing the Jewish connection to Jerusalem... it is corrupted and manipulated by Israel's enemies... we are not going to be a member of an organisation that deliberately acts against us".[63]


UNESCO offices in Brasília

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

  • Education: UNESCO supports research in comparative education, provides 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.[64]

The UNESCO transparency portal[81] has been designed to enable public access to information regarding the Organization's activities, such as its aggregate budget for a biennium, as well as links to relevant programmatic and financial documents. These two distinct sets of information are published on the IATI registry, respectively based on the IATI Activity Standard and the IATI Organization Standard.

There have been proposals to establish two new UNESCO lists. The first proposed list will focus on movable cultural heritage such as artifacts, paintings, and biofacts. The list may include cultural objects, such as the Jōmon Venus of Japan, the Mona Lisa of France, the Gebel el-Arak Knife of Egypt, The Ninth Wave of Russia, the Seated Woman of Çatalhöyük of Turkey, the David (Michelangelo) of Italy, the Mathura Herakles of India, the Manunggul Jar of the Philippines, the Crown of Baekje of South Korea, The Hay Wain of the United Kingdom and the Benin Bronzes of Nigeria. The second proposed list will focus on the world's living species, such as the komodo dragon of Indonesia, the panda of China, the bald eagle of North American countries, the aye-aye of Madagascar, the Asiatic lion of India, the kakapo of New Zealand, and the mountain tapir of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.[82][83]


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 has been available online, with limited printed issues. Its articles express the opinions of the authors which are not necessarily the opinions of UNESCO. There was a hiatus in publishing between 2012 and 2017.[84]

In 1950, UNESCO initiated the quarterly review Impact of Science on Society (also known as Impact) to discuss the influence of science on society. The journal ceased publication in 1992.[85] UNESCO also published Museum International Quarterly from the year 1948.

Official UNESCO NGOs

UNESCO has official relations with 322 international non-governmental organizations (NGOs).[86] Most of these are what UNESCO calls "operational"; a select few are "formal".[87] The highest form of affiliation to UNESCO is "formal associate", and the 22 NGOs[88] with formal associate (ASC) relations occupying offices at UNESCO are:

Abbr Organization
IB International Baccalaureate
CCIVS Co-ordinating Committee for International Voluntary Service
CIPSH International Council for Philosophy and Humanistic Studies (Conseil International de Philosophie et des Sciences Humaines; publishes Diogenes)
EI Education International
IAU International Association of Universities
IFTC International Council for Film, Television and Audiovisual Communication
ICOM International Council of Museums
ICSSPE International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education
ICA International Council on Archives
ICOMOS International Council on Monuments and Sites
IFJ International Federation of Journalists
IFLA International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions
IFPA International Federation of Poetry Associations
IMC International Music Council
IPA International Police Association
INSULA International Scientific Council for Island Development
ISC International Science Council (formerly ICSU and ISSC)
ITI International Theatre Institute
IUCN International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources
IUTAO International Union of Technical Associations and Organizations
UIA Union of International Associations
WAN World Association of Newspapers
WFEO World Federation of Engineering Organizations
WFUCA World Federation of UNESCO Clubs, Centres and Associations

Institutes and centers

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

Abbr Name Location
IBE International Bureau of Education Geneva[89]
UIL UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning Hamburg[90]
IIEP UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning Paris (headquarters) and Buenos Aires and Dakar (regional offices)[91]
IITE UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education Moscow[92]
IICBA UNESCO International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa Addis Ababa[93]
IESALC UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean Caracas[94]
MGIEP Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development New Delhi[95]
UNESCO-UNEVOC UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training Bonn[96]
IHE IHE-Delft Institute for Water Education Delft[97]
ICTP International Centre for Theoretical Physics Trieste[98]
UIS UNESCO Institute for Statistics

UNESCO awards 22 prizes[100] in education, science, culture and peace:

International Days observed at UNESCO

International Days observed at UNESCO is provided in the table given below:[101]

Date Name
14 January World Logic Day
24 January International Day of Education
27 January International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust
11 February International Day of Women and Girls in Science
13 February World Radio Day
21 February International Mother Language Day
8 March International Women's Day
20 March International Francophonie Day
21 March International Day of Nowruz
21 March World Poetry Day
21 March International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
22 March World Water Day
6 April International Day of Sport for Development and Peace
15 April World Art Day
23 April World Book and Copyright Day
30 April International Jazz Day
3 May World Press Freedom Day
5 May African World Heritage Day
5 May World Portuguese Language Day
16 May International Day of Light
21 May World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development
22 May International Day for Biological Diversity
5 June World Environment Day
8 June World Oceans Day
17 June World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought
18 July Nelson Mandela International Day
9 August International Day of the World's Indigenous People
12 August International Youth Day
23 August International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition
8 September International Literacy Day
15 September International Day of Democracy
21 September International Day of Peace
28 September International Day for the Universal Access to Information
5 October World Teachers' Day
11 October International Day of the Girl Child
13 October International Day for Disaster Reduction
17 October International Day for the Eradication of Poverty
24 October United Nations Day
27 October World Day for Audiovisual Heritage
2 November International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists[102]
5 November World Day of Romani Language
10 November World Science Day for Peace and Development
3rd Thursday in November World Philosophy Day
16 November International Day for Tolerance
25 November International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
29 November International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People
1 December World AIDS Day
3 December International Day of Persons with Disabilities
10 December Human Rights Day
18 December International Migrants Day
18 December World Arabic Language Day

Member states

As of January 2019, UNESCO has 193 member states and 11 associate members.[103] Some members are not independent states and some members have additional National Organizing Committees from some of their dependent territories.[104] UNESCO state parties are the United Nations member states (except Liechtenstein, United States[105] and Israel[106]), as well as Cook Islands, Niue and Palestine.[107][108] The United States and Israel left UNESCO on 31 December 2018.[109]

Governing bodies


There has been no elected UNESCO Director-General from Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central and North Asia, Middle East, North Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, South Africa, Australia-Oceania, and South America since inception.

The Directors-General of UNESCO came from West Europe (5), Central America (1), North America (2), West Africa (1), East Asia (1), and East Europe (1). Out of the 11 Directors-General since inception, women have held the position only twice. Qatar, the Philippines, and Iran are proposing for a Director-General bid by 2021 or 2025. There have never been a Middle Eastern or Southeast Asian UNESCO Director-General since inception. The ASEAN bloc and some Pacific and Latin American nations support the possible bid of the Philippines, which is culturally Asian, Oceanic, and Latin. Qatar and Iran, on the other hand, have fragmented support in the Middle East. Egypt, Israel, and Madagascar are also vying for the position but have yet to express a direct or indirect proposal. Both Qatar and Egypt lost in the 2017 bid against France.

The list of the Directors-General of UNESCO since its establishment in 1946 is as follows:[110]

Name Country Term
Audrey Azoulay  France 2017–present
Irina Bokova  Bulgaria 2009–2017
Koïchiro Matsuura  Japan 1999–2009
Federico Mayor Zaragoza  Spain 1987–99
Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow  Senegal 1974–87
René Maheu  France 1961–74; acting 1961
Vittorino Veronese  Italy 1958–61
Luther Evans  United States 1953–58
John Wilkinson Taylor  United States acting 1952–53
Jaime Torres Bodet  Mexico 1948–52
Julian Huxley  United Kingdom 1946–48

General Conference

This is the list of the sessions of the UNESCO General Conference held since 1946:[111]

Session Location Year Chaired by from
40th Paris 2019

Ahmet Altay Cengizer[112]

39th Paris 2017 Zohour Alaoui[113]  Morocco
38th Paris 2015 Stanley Mutumba Simataa[114]  Namibia
37th[115] Paris 2013 Hao Ping  China
36th Paris 2011 Katalin Bogyay  Hungary
35th Paris 2009 Davidson Hepburn  Bahamas
34th Paris 2007 Georgios Anastassopoulos  Greece
33rd Paris 2005 Musa Bin Jaafar Bin Hassan  Oman
32nd Paris 2003 Michael Omolewa  Nigeria
31st Paris 2001 Ahmad Jalali  Iran
30th Paris 1999 Jaroslava Moserová  Czech Republic
29th Paris 1997 Eduardo Portella  Brazil
28th Paris 1995 Torben Krogh  Denmark
27th Paris 1993 Ahmed Saleh Sayyad  Yemen
26th Paris 1991 Bethwell Allan Ogot  Kenya
25th Paris 1989 Anwar Ibrahim  Malaysia
24th Paris 1987 Guillermo Putzeys Alvarez  Guatemala
23rd Sofia 1985 Nikolai Todorov  Bulgaria
22nd Paris 1983 Saïd Tell  Jordan
4th extraordinary Paris 1982
21st Belgrade 1980 Ivo Margan  Yugoslavia
20th Paris 1978 Napoléon LeBlanc  Canada
19th Nairobi 1976 Taaita Toweett  Kenya
18th Paris 1974 Magda Jóború  Hungary
3rd extraordinary Paris 1973
17th Paris 1972 Toru Haguiwara  Japan
16th Paris 1970 Atilio Dell'Oro Maini  Argentina
15th Paris 1968 William Eteki Mboumoua  Cameroon
14th Paris 1966 Bedrettin Tuncel  Turkey
13th Paris 1964 Norair Sisakian  Soviet Union
12th Paris 1962 Paulo de Berrêdo Carneiro  Brazil
11th Paris 1960 Akale-Work Abte-Wold  Ethiopia
10th Paris 1958 Jean Berthoin  France
9th New Delhi 1956 Abul Kalam Azad  India
8th Montevideo 1954 Justino Zavala Muniz  Uruguay
2nd extraordinary Paris 1953
7th Paris 1952 Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan  India
6th Paris 1951 Howland H. Sargeant  United States
5th Florence 1950 Stefano Jacini  Italy
4th Paris 1949 Edward Ronald Walker  Australia
1st extraordinary Paris 1948
3rd Beirut 1948 Hamid Bey Frangie  Lebanon
2nd Mexico City 1947 Manuel Gual Vidal  Mexico
1st Paris 1946 Léon Blum  France

Executive Board

Term Group I
(9 seats)
Group II
(7 seats)
Group III
(10 seats)
Group IV
(12 seats)
Group V(a)
(13 seats)
Group V(b)
(7 seats)
2019–2023[116]  France












 Dominican Republic






 South Korea










 Saudi Arabia




 United Kingdom



 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
 North Macedonia


 Papua New Guinea
 South Korea


 United Arab Emirates

Offices and headquarters

The Garden of Peace at UNESCO headquarters

The UNESCO headquarters, the World Heritage Centre, is located at Place de Fontenoy in Paris, France. Its architect was Marcel Breuer. It includes a Garden of Peace which was donated by the Government of Japan. This garden was designed by American-Japanese sculptor artist Isamu Noguchi in 1958 and installed by Japanese gardener Toemon Sano. In 1994–1995, in memory of the 50th anniversary of UNESCO, a meditation room was built by Tadao Ando.[119]

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.[120]