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Shiro Takahashi

【#475】Japan Should Exit UNESCO Depending on Comfort Women Inscription

Shiro Takahashi / 2017.10.19 (Thu)

October 16, 2017

     On October 12, the U.S. government announced it would withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The announcement came in protest to UNESCO’s anti-Israel attitude indicated by its decision to inscribe the old city of Hebron in the Palestinian autonomous region as a world heritage site as nominated jointly by seven Muslim countries. Israel also vowed to secede from UNESCO, following suit of the United States.
     The U.S. decision to pull out of UNESCO is not someone else’s problem for Japan. The UNESCO International Advisory Committee is planned to meet from October 24 to recommend the UNESCO director-general on whether to accept the inscription of documents on “Voices of the ‘Comfort Women’ ” for the wartime Japanese Imperial Army on the Memory of the World Register as nominated jointly by private organizations in eight countries including Japan, China and South Korea. If the IAC decides to recommend the inscription, the Japanese government should immediately decide to pull out of UNESCO.

U.S. demands fundamental UNESCO reform
     The United States withdrew from UNESCO in 1984 under the Reagan administration for the reason of the U.N. body’s excessive politicization and acceded to UNESCO again in 2003 after UNESCO improvements. In protest to Palestine’s accession to the U.N. body in 2011, however, Washington suspended contributions to UNESCO. The October 12 State Department statement announcing the withdrawal emphasized “the need for fundamental reform” in UNESCO.
     The United States accounts for 22% of the UNESCO budget and Japan for nearly 10%. The two countries’ secession from UNESCO would deal a severe financial blow to the U.N. body. The United States plans to engage with UNESCO as observer after its withdrawal takes effect in December 2018. Japan can maintain similar engagement.
     At its meeting which began on October 4, the UNESCO executive committee is expected to adopt a final report on an institutional reform to protect the Memory of World program from political abuse, calling for UNESCO to subject questioned nominations to continued talks between relevant parties if no agreement is gained on their inscription. The IAC should build on the rule to put off deliberation on the nominated documents on “Voices of the ‘Comfort Women’ ” and provide relevant organizations with opportunities to have talks on the matter.
     The Register Subcommittee under the IAC might have recommended the IAC to approve the inscription of the comfort women documents on the Memory of the World Register, following its recommendation on so-called “Nanjing Massacre” documents in 2015.

Scholars request talks on comfort women documents
     On October 16, Japanese scholars opposing the nominated inscription of the comfort women documents issued their statement, urging the UNESCO director-general to lead the IAC to provide opportunities for talks among relevant organizations without deliberating on the nomination.
     In 2015, the IAC recommended the director-general to inscribe the “Nanjing Massacre” documents as advised by the RSC, leading to a final decision on the inscription. Japan should not leave UNESCO to recklessly inscribe the comfort women documents on the Memory of the World Register in addition to the “Nanjing Massacre” documents.

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