(CNSNews.com) - Pro-lifers are urging President Bush to appoint a conservative to represent the United States when it rejoins a U.N. organization it withdrew from in protest 18 years ago.
Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute president Austin Ruse said that conservatives "disgruntled" with the Bush administration's decision to rejoin the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization would withhold their criticism of Bush if he sends a "strong social conservative" to represent the country at UNESCO's Paris headquarters.
Bush announced the decision to rejoin UNESCO during his speech to the U.N. General Assembly last Thursday, but the announcement was largely overshadowed by his comments about the Iraq crisis.
"This organization has been reformed, and America will participate fully in its mission to advance human rights and tolerance and learning," the president said of UNESCO.
The U.S. withdrew from the body during the Reagan administration, charging it was corrupt, mismanaged and highly-politicized. At the time, the U.S. was responsible for a quarter of its budget.
Britain and Singapore also pulled out, although Britain rejoined in the late 1990s.
Reforms have been carried out in recent years under director-general Koichiro Matsuura, a former Japanese deputy foreign minister, prompting growing calls for the U.S. to return.
But conservatives have counseled against a hasty decision.
Ruse said his organization warned the White House and State Department in a solicited memo last year that conservatives would object to UNESCO's collaboration with other U.N. and non-governmental agencies that promote abortion.
In line with groups like the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, UNESCO promotes "reproductive health services" - which in U.N. parlance includes abortion - for children, he said.
Washington last July announced it would not release $34.5 million in funds earmarked for the UNFPA after pro-lifers accused it of tolerating China's coercive "one-child policy."
According to Ruse, the White House was also warned that many conservative groups were concerned about UNESCO's "ongoing support of the UN's radical social agenda."
For instance, UNESCO is a co-sponsor of a 1998 U.N. document called "HIV/AIDS and Human Rights - International Guidelines."
The document calls on governments to support a range of liberal approaches to sexual and reproductive issues.
They include the right to abortions, penalties for "vilification of people who engage in same-sex relationships," legally recognizing same-sex "marriages," and equalizing the age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual sex.
If necessary, the guidelines say, "traditional and customary" laws that run up against anti-discrimination laws should be changed, together with "the attitudes associated with them."
Together with other U.N. agencies, Ruse said, "UNESCO has created curricula that many social conservatives would believe undermine parental authority, show disdain for traditional cultures and religious worldviews, and introduce dishonesty into education.
"A great deal of UNESCO's other educational materials fall squarely in the camp of political correctness, endorsing liberal stances on such issues as gender and environmentalism."
The U.S. was one of the founding members of UNESCO, which was formed in late 1945 to promote world peace through education, science and culture.
In many Western eyes, it became a mouthpiece for pro-Soviet and pro-Third World sentiment, while developing a bloated and inefficient bureaucracy.
Like other U.N. agencies, UNESCO took a strongly anti-Israel stance. In 1974 it punished Israel for archeological work in Jerusalem by resolving to "withhold assistance from Israel in the fields of education, science and culture" and dumping Israel from a regional working group.
Shortly before the U.S. pulled out, the organization planned to set up a "new world information order" to counteract what it said was an unbalanced, Western-dominated flow of information.
Western media organizations objected to proposals that journalists be licensed and an international code of press ethics established.
Pro-lifers have also criticized UNESCO over the years.
Vatican foreign secretary Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran several times in 2000 blasted UNESCO - and other U.N. agencies - for promoting abortion, abortifacient birth control methods and experimentation using human embryos.
After Matsuura took over as director in November 1999, he somewhat pared back the bureaucracy and took other steps aimed at winning back U.S. membership.
UNESCO put out a pamphlet last year saying it had resolved outstanding issues of concern to the U.S. such as press freedom.
After Bush announced the U.S. would return to the organization, Matsuura welcomed the move, saying he had made it his "personal mission over the last three years to shape UNESCO into the most dynamic, efficient and relevant organization it can be."
'Don't rush back'
Although criticism has been muted since Bush's statement, in recent months a number of conservatives have warned the administration not to return to UNESCO too quickly.
Heritage Foundation fellow Brett Schaefer said in July the organization had made some progress but still had "long way to go before it again becomes worthy of U.S. membership."
It had cut back on staff, but only by 40 of the 782 positions it had in 1998, he said, adding that 60 percent of its budget goes to personnel and only 40 percent to programs.
Schaefer also criticized UNESCO for "a lack of focus," arguing that many of its programs overlapped those run by other U.N. agencies or private sector initiatives.
And he queried the organization's "stated ambition to set international ethical standards for life sciences and biotechnology."
"These are issues best debated among and enforced by national governments accountable to their citizens, not by faceless bureaucrats who may hold vastly different moral and ethical principles than most Americans," Schaefer said.
Also in July, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Republican spokesman, Lester Munson, denied a claim in a Washington Post column that Senator Jesse Helms had indicated approval of a U.S. return to UNESCO.
"At a time when every dollar is needed to protect our nation from Osama bin Laden and his ilk, including Saddam Hussein and other state sponsors of terrorism (or to address urgent humanitarian crises such as the HIV/AIDS pandemic), UNESCO remains an irrelevant and unnecessary luxury item that does not merit our precious resources," Munson wrote in a letter published in the paper.
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