Former French minister elected Director General of UNESCO

World Today

UNESCO has a new leader. She narrowly won an election overshadowed by the decisions of the U.S. and Israel to withdraw from the cultural organization.

As CGTN’s Elena Casas reports, the new Director General will have difficult decisions to make from her first day in office.
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It was supposed to be an Arab candidate’s year, but at the last moment a French former culture minister emerged the victor.

Director general-elect Audrey Azoulay says she wants to focus on peacemaking and promoting education, agreeing with critics who say the organization has become too politicized in recent years.

“What we call the outrageous or very strong politicization of UNESCO, that today has taken a disproportionate dimension,” Azoulay said.

The leader starts her job with a full plate; the U.S. and Israeli decision to withdraw from UNESCO has plunged the agency into a fresh crisis as it struggles from budget cuts. The U.S. canceled funding in 2011 after the organization allowed Palestine to become a member.

Current Director General Irina Bokova said her replacement will need to be good at gathering funds and bringing countries together, admitting the organization has serious problems both financially and politically.

Some UNESCO officials believe these issues can be addressed, but will be difficult to completely escape from.

“So there will always be a certain political dimension. I don’t think we can walk away from that,” according to Ambassador David Doyle. “You can’t ignore it, but at least we need to refocus our efforts and our attention on what programs have worked and what works for member states.”