UNESCO is an autonomous organization affiliated with the UN through a relationship agreement signed in 1946. Its three principal organs are the General Conference, the Executive Board, and the secretariat, headed by a director-general.
All UNESCO members have the right to be represented in the General Conference, which determines UNESCO's policies and decides on its major undertakings. Each member state has one vote in the conference but may be represented by five delegates. The constitution of UNESCO requires that member governments are to consult with national educational, scientific, and cultural bodies before selecting these delegates; in countries where UNESCO commissions have been established, these too are to be consulted.
From 1946 through 1952, the General Conference met every year. Since then it has met generally every two years. As a rule, the conference takes place in Paris, but it has also met in Mexico City, Beirut, Florence, Montevideo, New Delhi, Nairobi, Belgrade, and Sofia.
Decisions of the General Conference are made by a simple majority vote, except for certain constitutionally specified matters that require a two-thirds majority, such as amending the UNESCO constitution or adopting an international convention. Member nations are not automatically bound by conventions adopted by the General Conference, but the UNESCO constitution requires them to submit such conventions to their appropriate national authority for ratification within one year. The same applies to recommendations, which the General Conference is empowered to adopt by simple majority vote.
Elected by the General Conference, the Executive Board is one of three constitutional organs of UNESCO and consists of 58 member states serving a four-year term. It supervises the execution of UNESCO's program. It meets at least twice a year. Before the General Conference convenes, the Executive Board reviews the budget estimates and work program for the following two-year period, as prepared by the director-general. It submits these with its recommendations to the General Conference and prepares the agenda for the conference.
Originally, the UNESCO constitution provided that "although the members of the Executive Board are representatives of their respective governments, they shall exercise the powers delegated to them by the General Conference on behalf of the Conference as a whole." Until 1993, the members of the board were not member states, but personalities designated by name. UNESCO's constitution only designated that the General Conference should "endeavor to include persons competent in the arts, the humanities, the sciences, education and the diffusion of ideas." In 1993, the General Conference changed this criteria. Since that time, the member states of the Executive Board are requested to appoint a person qualified in one or more of the fields of competence of UNESCO and with the necessary experience and capacity to fulfill the administrative and executive duties of the board. The General Conference, in electing member states to the Executive Board, must also take into account the diversity of cultures and balanced geographical distribution.
Following a constitutional amendment adopted by the General Conference in 1972, board members are elected for four years and are not immediately eligible for a second term. At each session, the General Conference elects members to succeed those whose terms end with that session. A system of electoral groups of member states, governing only elections to the Executive Board, was established in 1968.
The secretariat carries out UNESCO's programs. It is headed by a director-general, nominated by the Executive Board and elected by the General Conference. The staff members are appointed by the director-general. Julian Huxley of the United Kingdom was UNESCO's first director-general. Federico Mayor Zaragoza of Spain was elected director-general in November 1987, succeeding Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow of Senegal, who had held the post since 1974. At the 1993 General Conference, Mr. Mayor was elected for a second six-year term. Koichiro Matsuura of Japan was appointed Director-General at the General Conference on 12 November 1999.
Headquarters. UNESCO's first headquarters were in the Hotel Majestic, in Paris, a building which, ironically, had served as the headquarters for the German army during its occupation of France. In 1958, the organization's headquarters were transferred to a 3-hectare (7.5-acre) site, located at 7 place de Fontenoy, donated to UNESCO by the government of France.
UNESCO headquarters originally consisted of a conference building, a secretariat building, and a building for the permanent delegations assigned to UNESCO. In 1965, a new building constructed around underground patios was added, and in 1970 and 1977, two supplementary buildings. The buildings were designed and approved by several leading architects. Works by contemporary artists are an integral part of the headquarters.
UNESCO has been criticized by the United States since the 1980s for the concentration of its staff at its headquarters office in Paris, rather than in the field. A 1992 report by the US State Department said that 73% of UNESCO's total staff of 2,697 persons were located in Paris. The same report also conceded that, despite this fact, 44% of the organization's regular and extra-budgetary resources were spent in the field. This disparity, however, may simply reflect the vastly different nature of UNESCO's mandate, as opposed to the mandate of technically-oriented specialized agencies. In 2002, UNESCO had a staff of 2,160, of which 645 worked in 73 field offices. The percentage of staff working in the field had not markedly changed since 1980, though the number of field offices had increased.
In Africa, UNESCO offices are located in Luanda, Angola; Porto Novo, Benin; Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; Bujumbura, Burundi; Yaounde, Cameroon; Bangui, Central African Republic; Brazzaville, Congo; Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo; Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Libreville, Gabon; Accra, Ghana; Conakry, Guinea; Nairobi, Kenya; Bamako, Mali; Maputo, Mozambique; Windhoek, Namibia; Abuja, Nigeria; Kigali, Rwanda; Dakar, Senegal; Pretoria, South Africa; Dar es Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania; Lusaka, Zambia; and Harare, Zimbabwe.
In the Arab world, UNESCO offices are located in Cairo, Egypt; Amman, Jordan; Beirut, Lebanon; Rabat, Morocco; Ramallah, West Bank (Palestine)—liaison office; Doha, Qatar; and Tunis, Tunisia.
In Asian and the Pacific, UNESCO offices are located in Dhaka, Bangladesh; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Beijing, China; New Delhi, India; Jakarta, Indonesia; Tehran, Iran; Almaty, Kazakhstan; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Kathmandu, Nepal; Islamabad, Pakistan; Apia, Samoa; Bangkok, Thailand; Tashkent, Uzbekistan; and Hanoi, Vietnam.
In Europe and North America, UNESCO offices are located in Vienna, Austria; Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina; Quebec, Canada; Venice, Italy; Bucharest, Romania; Moscow, Russian Federation; Geneva, Switzerland; and New York and Washington, DC, United States—liaison offices.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, UNESCO offices are located in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Bridgetown, Barbados; La Paz, Bolivia; Brasilia, Brazil; Santiago, Chile; San Jose, Costa Rica; Havana, Cuba; Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Quito, Ecuador; San Salvador, El Salvador; Guatemala City, Guatemala; Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Kingston, Jamaica; Mexico City, Mexico; Panama City, Panama; Asunción, Paraguay; Lima, Peru; Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; Montevideo, Uruguay; and Caracas, Venezuela.
The UNESCO constitution requests every member state to associate "its principal bodies interested in educational, scientific, and cultural matters with the work of the Organization, preferably by the formation of a National Commission…." By 2002, 188member states had established such broadly representative national commissions to collaborate with UNESCO in attaining its objectives. These commissions are not official UNESCO organs, but they provide a vital link between UNESCO and the public at large. They advise their governments and the delegations that attend the UNESCO General Conference on pertinent matters and serve as liaison agencies and information outlets.
The various national commissions vary greatly in size and composition. Often the country's minister of education is the commission's president, and its members may include high government officials, leaders in the fields of education, science, and the arts, and representatives of professional organizations. Through meetings, publications, broadcasts, contests, and exhibitions, the commissions stimulate public interest in specific UNESCO projects. National UNESCO commissions of several countries often meet for regional conferences. National commissions are frequently given contracts to translate UNESCO publications and to handle printing and distribution of these translations.
The constitution of UNESCO states that "a peace based exclusively upon the political and economic arrangements of governments would not be a peace which could secure the unanimous, lasting and sincere support of the peoples of the world" and that "peace must therefore be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind."
In order to attain that objective, the founders of UNESCO sought ways of associating the peoples of the world as closely as possible in the preparation and implementation of the organization's aims and programs. Thus, from its inception, UNESCO has sought the collaboration of international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The NGOs with which UNESCO cooperates have activities and interests paralleling those of the organization, ranging from specialized or scholarly organizations (of teachers, scientific researchers, philosophers, sociologists, journalists, writers, and legal experts) to mass organizations (trade unions, cooperatives, women's associations, and youth movements) and denominational organizations.
UNESCO consults and cooperates with NGOs so as to receive the broadest possible assistance from them in the preparation and implementation of its programs, thus strengthening international cooperation in the fields of education, science, and culture.