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Shiro Takahashi

【#448(Special)】Double Standard of UNESCO’s Memory of World Register

Shiro Takahashi / 2017.06.29 (Thu)


June 27, 2017

     The Asahi Shimbun newspaper carried a major story headlined “UNESCO to Exclude Some ‘Political Nominations’ for Inscription on ‘Memory of World’ Register” on June 24, reporting that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization was planning to exclude some Japan-related “political nominations” for the inscription of documents on the Memory of the World Register because the register is designed for the preservation of documents rather than for any historical conclusion or interpretation and should not be criticized for being politically partisan.

Unfair UNESCO secretariat
     If the report that UNESCO plans to exclude “political nominations” from screening is fully backed up, the UNESCO secretariat may have to be viewed as having double standards and lacking fairness. Although the report indicates that a joint nomination by 14 organizations from eight countries and regions for the inscription of documents on comfort women for the wartime Japanese Imperial Army on the register apparently has not been subject for the exclusion, these documents selected by the organizations that have condemned the comfort women system include many politically biased activity records. The nomination for their inscription on the register is clearly political features with political partisanship.
     The policy to exclude “political nominations” from screening, which was reportedly conveyed to relevant nominators in April, might have been based on discussions at the Register Subcommittee that met in late February. Having notified relevant nominators of nominations judged as political, the RSC will consider responses (including rebuttals) from the nominators before making recommendations to the International Advisory Committee. The IAC will then examine the recommendations and advise the UNESCO director-general on how to deal with specific nominations.
     While when the RSC will meet to decide on the recommendations to the IAC is unknown, the meeting is likely to take place before the UNESCO secretariat enters summer holidays. In the case of the inscription of Nanjing Massacre documents in 2015, the RSC’s recommendations to the IAC effectively became the final decision. Japan must not repeat its mistake of taking a reactive approach to the screening process.

Japan should act swiftly
     We should watch the conclusion the RSC may reach in the near future. If the decision runs counter to the objective of the Memory of the World Program, the Japanese government should immediately rebut from the universal viewpoint of protecting the program from political abuse and urge the IAC to prudently consider the recommendations.
     According to a document on the 201st session of the UNESCO Executive Board released on the United Nations website on March 24, a group of experts on the improvement of Memory of the World Register inscription guidelines has pointed out that a mechanism is needed to protect the Memory of the World Program from political abuse. The group has recommended the UNESCO director-general that questioned nominations be subjected to three mediation options -- (1) a joint nomination, (2) agreement on an inscription including opinions showing differing perspectives and (3) a further dialogue over up to four years in the absence of agreement. Given the improvement recommendation, the registration of “political nominations” should be deferred.

Shiro Takahashi is a Director, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, and Special Professor at Meisei University