Drained of cash and riven by rivalries, UNESCO seeks leader to revive fortunes

A view shows the headquarters of the UNESCO in Paris, France, on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Updated 06 October 2017
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Drained of cash and riven by rivalries, UNESCO seeks leader to revive fortunes

PARIS: When Israel’s envoy told UNESCO delegates last July that fixing the plumbing in his toilet was more important than their latest ruling, it highlighted how fractious geopolitics are paralyzing the workings of the agency.
Whoever wins the race to replace Irina Bokova as head of the UN’s cultural and education body next week will have to try to restore the relevance of an agency born from the ashes of World War Two but increasingly hobbled by regional rivalries and a lack of money.
Its triumphs include designating world heritage sites such as the Galapagos Islands and the historic tombs of Timbuktu — re-built by UNESCO after militants destroyed them.
But in a sign of how toxic relations have become, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told world leaders at the UN General Assembly last month that UNESCO was promoting “fake history.”
Like Israel’s plain-speaking envoy Carmel Shama Hacohen, Netanyahu was referring to UNESCO’s designation of Hebron and the two adjoined shrines at its heart — the Jewish Tomb of the Patriarchs and the Muslim Ibrahimi Mosque — as a “Palestinian World Heritage Site in Danger.”
Jews believe the Cave of the Patriarchs is where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives, are buried. Muslims, who, like Christians, also revere Abraham, built the Ibrahimi mosque, also known as the Sanctuary of Abraham, in the 14th century.
Israeli-Palestinian hostilities, though, are only part of a minefield of contentious issues on which the UN body has to hand down rulings.
Japan, for example, threatened to withhold its 2016 dues after UNESCO included documents submitted by China on the 1937 Nanjing Massacre in its “Memory of the World” program.
The Paris-based organization, which also promotes global education and supports press freedom, convenes its executive council on Oct. 9 to begin voting on seven candidates.
Azerbaijan, China, Egypt, France, Lebanon, Qatar and Vietnam have put forward candidates. There is no clear frontrunner.
UNESCO’s struggles worsened in 2011, when the US canceled its substantial budgetary contribution in protest at a decision to grant the Palestinians full membership. UNESCO has been forced to cut programs and freeze hiring.
“It’s an organization that has been swept away from its mandate to become a sounding board for clashes that happen elsewhere, and that translates into political and financial hijacking,” said a former European UNESCO ambassador.
All the candidates have vowed a grassroots overhaul and pledged independence from their home nations.
France and China, both permanent members of the UN Security Council, argue the agency needs “strong leadership, which can only come with the backing of a major power.
Chinese candidate Qian Tang has almost 25 years experience at UNESCO. His bid fits into Beijing’s soft power diplomacy, though Western capitals fret about China controlling an agency that shapes Internet and media policy.
Former French Culture Minister Audrey Azoulay carries the support of France’s new young president, Emmanuel Macron. But the last minute French candidacy has drawn the ire of Arab states, notably Egypt, who believe it should be their turn.
The Arab states face their own political tests. Their three entries underscore their own disunity, something the Egyptian hopeful Moushira Khattab has indicated stymie the Arab bid.
The crisis engulfing Qatar and its Gulf Arab neighbors, who have called Doha a “high level” sponsor of terrorism, meanwhile may have hurt the chances of former Qatari culture minister Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari.
Voting takes place over a maximum five rounds. If the two finalists are level, they draw lots.


Indonesian president urged to ban child marriage

Updated 25 April 2018
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Indonesian president urged to ban child marriage

JAKARTA: Women’s rights activists in Indonesia are pushing President Joko Widodo to issue a presidential regulation that will make child marriage illegal in the country, where its prevalence is one of the highest in world.
They recently submitted their proposed draft of a presidential regulation to Widodo, in lieu of a law to prevent and abolish early marriage.
Naila Rizqi Zakiah, one of the 18 activists invited to meet with him, said they raised three issues: Child marriage, the bill to amend the criminal code, and the bill against sexual violence.
“The first issue the president responded to was child marriage,” Zakiah told Arab News. “We asked him to issue a presidential regulation in lieu of a law to prevent and stop child marriage. We’ve come up with a draft, and we submitted it to him for his perusal.”
She said Widodo responded “positively” to the proposal after they explained to him that child marriage could deny children their basic human rights and hinder national development.
“We submitted this draft because we think rampant child marriage in the country is an emergency situation, while the procedure in Parliament to amend the articles on the minimum age to marry in the marriage law could be lengthy,” Zakiah said.
The Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection has urged Parliament to prioritize amending the 1974 marriage law to raise the minimum age for females to marry to 20 and for males to 22.

 

 The law requires parental permission for those under 21 who want to marry. The minimum legal age for women to marry is 16, and 19 for men.
Parents can request a legal exemption from a religious court to marry children younger than that, with no limit on the minimum age.
Women’s and child rights activists have been advocating to raise the minimum legal age for females to marry to 18, in line with the child protection law that categorizes those under 18 as minors.
“It’s still not the ideal age to get married, but would be the minimum (acceptable),” Maria Ulfa Anshor, a commissioner for the Indonesian Child Protection Commission, told Arab News.
“We’ve been waiting for so long for this move, especially since the risks and dangers of child marriage, such as the high maternal mortality rate, are so real,” she added. “I hope there will be no more child marriage, because the courts give exemptions to do so.”
According to UNICEF, child marriage in Indonesia is rampant, with more than one in six girls, or 340,000, getting married every year before they reach adulthood.
Child marriage is most prevalent among girls who are 16 and 17, but there has been a decline among under-15s.
The debate about banning child marriage resurfaced following media reports of a 14-year-old girl and her 15-year-old boyfriend in South Sulawesi province who sought an exemption from a religious court to get married, which they obtained. They reportedly got married on Monday.

FACTOID

Child Marriage

According to UNICEF, 14 percent of girls in Indonesia are married before the age of 18, while 1 percent marry before the age of 15.