The National Lawyers Guild International Committee denounces in the strongest terms the actions of United States President Donald Trump in withdrawing from UNESCO—the United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The withdrawal of the United States from UNESCO in an attempt to suppress and delegitimize global support for the protection of Palestinian culture is an attack on Palestinian rights, especially cultural rights. It also reflects the U.S. government’s ongoing attempts to bully and force international bodies to accept its imperial authority, while engaging in blatant violations of human rights and international law, both globally and domestically.
The United States has refused to pay its dues to UNESCO since 2011, when the UN body voted to admit Palestine, still under Israeli military occupation, as a full member state in the organization. Because of its refusal to contribute its share to UNESCO’s work, the U.S. has not had voting rights in the body since 2013. Nevertheless, the U.S. government has repeatedly attempted to pressure UNESCO to reject Palestinian efforts to protect cultural heritage under occupation, especially at sites threatened daily by Israeli settler incursions with the tacit approval, if not full support and oversight, of the Israeli state.
Israel has attempted to remove UNESCO’s designation of the occupied Old City of Jerusalem from its list of endangered world heritage sites only weeks after the international body recognized that Israel’s actions violate human rights and threaten the structural integrity of the Al-Aqsa mosque. The Israeli government has engaged in a defamation campaign against the international body, falsely accusing it of being anti-Semitic for criticizing the Israeli occupation over precious, multi-religious holy sites and recognizing those sites as Palestinian and under occupation.
The U.S. withdrawal from UNESCO illustrates clearly how out of touch the United States government is from the vast majority of peoples and even states in the world. It is also in line with previous attempts to suppress international efforts to protect oppressed cultures and peoples under attack, including the orchestrated U.S., Israeli, and Canadian assault on the 2001 World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) held in Durban, South Africa, and the Durban review process that followed.
In reality, UNESCO can and should be doing more to protect Palestinian cultural rights under attack; the world body has, in the past, conceded to Israeli demands regarding Palestinian cultural heritage. The U.S. withdrawal is not an occasion to pull back and concede to global imperial bullying, but an occasion to advocate even more strongly for respecting international law and human rights, especially economic, social and cultural rights, long unrecognized or even under attack by the U.S. government.
This action by the U.S. government comes amid the blatant threats of an illegal war against North Korea from the UN platform by President Trump, attempts to suppress a forthcoming report on international corporate involvement in illegal Israeli settlements and regular threats by the United States representative to the UN, Nikki Haley, of withdrawal from other global bodies such as the UN Human Rights Council if they will not accede to U.S. dictates. It also comes amid the flagrant impunity of U.S. officials for war crimes committed in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, while supporting the international prosecution of African officials.
As an organization of lawyers, legal workers, law students and jailhouse lawyers in the United States, we affirm the importance of international bodies such as UNESCO in working to protect global cultural heritage and rights. We also emphasize that UN bodies can, should, and must act to hold the U.S., Israel, and other large powers accountable for their ongoing violations of international law and human rights both domestically and on the world stage, and we express our commitment to work in U.S. courts as well as national and international organizations to pursue that accountability.
Photo: United Nations