The United States – one of the founding members of UNESCO – signed the UNESCO Constitution on November 16, 1945, at the conclusion of the London Constitutional Conference.
UNESCO’s Constitution aims to build peace by promoting international collaboration in education, science, culture and communication. Over more than half a century of existence, UNESCO has led the major international literacy and basic education campaigns; built avenues to advance the transfer and sharing of scientific and technical knowledge; promoted and defended world cultural monuments, art and art institutions, biosphere reserves, languages and indigenous cultures; and fought to build free and independent media and national legislation protecting free speech as enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
Since its founding, UNESCO has forged some 50 major international and regional standard-setting legal frameworks that have had a daily impact on lives. These include the 1952 Universal Copyright Convention with its ubiquitous copyright “©”symbol; the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict; the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property; the 1972 Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage; along with numerous regional legal frameworks governing the recognition of higher education diplomas and degrees among nations. Today, UNESCO continues to build consensus on standard-setting instruments that address key global issues, from the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights to the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.
UNESCO brings together scientists, educators and policy makers from around the world. For example, UNESCO’s 1968 Conference on the Conservation of Biospheres marked the first intergovernmental meeting to highlight the global nature of environmental problems and to adopt international recommendations on the environment. It was also a series of UNESCO conferences that led to the establishment in 1954 of CERN (the European Laboratory for Particle Physics), a watershed in international scientific collaboration which later became the birthplace of the World Wide Web and recently discovered the Higgs boson. In 1960, UNESCO convened a conference that established the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), a branch of UNESCO that continues to foster major collaborative research efforts to help governments learn more about the oceans and their vital resources, as well as to prepare Member States for phenomena like El Niño, hurricanes and tsunami.
UNESCO serves as the worldwide clearing house for information in its fields of competence. The Organization’s statistical services collect and rigorously evaluate information on key aspects of education, science and technology, culture and communication, providing data available nowhere else in the world. UNESCO is also a major publisher, with titles ranging from such best sellers as the updated 6th edition of Human Rights: Questions and Answers, one of UNESCO’s best and long sellers, it was first published in 1981 and has been translated into 36 languages, to World Reports in education, science, culture and communication, scientific maps and translations of the literature and traditional folklore of developing countries. In all, UNESCO has published some 10,000 titles translated into 80 languages and available through libraries and bookstores in more than 160 countries.