Upon the proposal of CAME, a United Nations Conference for the establishment of an educational and cultural organization (ECO/CONF) was convened in London from 1 to 16 November 1945. Scarcely had the war ended when the conference opened. It gathered together the representatives of forty-four countries. Spurred on by France and the United Kingdom, two countries that had known great hardship during the conflict, the delegates decided to create an organization that would embody a genuine culture of peace. In their eyes, the new organization must establish the “intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind” and, in so doing, prevent the outbreak of another world war.
At the end of the conference, thirty-seven countries founded the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The Constitution of UNESCO, signed on 16 November 1945, came into force on 4 November 1946 after ratification by twenty countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, France, Greece, India, Lebanon, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom and United States. The first session of the General Conference of UNESCO was held in Paris from 19 November to 10 December 1946 with the participation of representatives from 30 governments entitled to vote.
The ashes of the Second World War are reflected in the composition of the founding Member States of UNESCO. Japan and the Federal Republic of Germany became members in 1951, Spain in 1953. Other major historical factors, as the Cold War, the decolonization process and the dissolution of the USSR, also left their trace on UNESCO. The USSR joined UNESCO in 1954 and was replaced by the Russian Federation in 1992. Nineteen African States became Members in 1960. Twelve Republics from the former Soviet Union joined UNESCO in the period 1991 to 1993.
As a consequence of its entry into the United Nations, the People’s Republic of China has been the only legitimate representative of China at UNESCO since 1971. The German Democratic Republic was a Member from 1972 to 1990, when it joined the Federal Republic of Germany.
The League of Nations, the United Nations’ ancestor, also had an institution to deal with intellectual cooperation: the “International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation” (ICIC), which had prestigious members such as Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, Marie Curie and Paul Valéry.
The flag of UNESCO shows a variation of the Parthenon, the ancient Greek temple, which is located in Athens, Greece.
The General Conference is a gathering of the organization’s member states and associate members, in which each state has one vote. Meeting every two years, it sets general policies and defines programme lines for the organization.
The Executive Board’s 58 members are elected by the General Conference for staggered four-year terms. The Executive Board prepares the sessions of the General Conference and ensures that its instructions are carried out. It also discharges other specific mandates assigned to it by the General Conference.
The Secretariat consists of the Director-General and his staff and is responsible for the day-to-day running of the organization. The Director-General, who serves as the public face of UNESCO, is elected for a (renewable) four-year term by the General Conference. The staff currently numbers some 2100, of whom some two-thirds are based in Paris, with the remaining third spread around the world in UNESCO’s 58 field offices. The Secretariat is divided into various administrative offices and five programme sectors that reflect the organization’s major areas of focus.