SAA Statement on U.S. Intention to Withdraw from UNESCO

November 6, 2017—On October 12, 2017, the Trump Administration announced its intention to withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2018 and seek to establish a permanent observer mission to the organization. The Society of American Archivists (SAA) does not support the administration’s abandonment of an organization that is involved in important cultural work throughout the world. UNESCO’s mission is to “contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science, and culture. Its main concern is to foster and maintain intellectual solidarity.” We urge the Trump Administration to reverse this decision and make preservation of and access to cultural heritage a priority. Renewing U.S. membership in UNESCO provides significant symbolic value of the U.S. role as a world leader.

SAA is a founding member of the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, a group that includes the American Library Association. SAA endorses the National Committee’s recent “Statement Regarding United States of America’s Intention to Withdraw from UNESCO”

UNESCO has provided leadership, funding, and preservation assistance to archives, libraries, and museums world-wide through the following programs: Memory of the World, which compiles the most important pieces of humankind’s documentary heritage, and PERSIST (Platform to Enhance the Sustainability of the Information Society Transglobally), a collaborative project of UNESCO, the International Federation of Library Associations, the International Council on Archives, and other partners to address globally pressing questions on the long-term preservation of digital information, including strategies, techniques, selection, responsibility, and division of labor.

UNESCO plays an important role in providing critical funding for the promotion of culture as well as access to and preservation and disaster recovery of archives throughout the world. This is especially critical for at-risk archives in areas such as Bosnia-Herzegovina and the South Sudan.

SAA also reiterates its strong and unwavering support for the Universal Declaration on Archives, created by a special working group of the International Council on Archives and adopted by the 36th Session of the General Conference of UNESCO on 10 November 2011. The Declaration:

  • Defines archives to include all recorded decisions, actions, and memories in all formats including paper, digital, and audiovisual;
  • Recognizes the uniqueness of archives in the way they provide authentic evidence of human actions;
  • Emphasizes the key role of archives in ensuring administrative transparency and democratic accountability, supporting democracy and human rights, and preserving collective social memory;
  • Explains the role of archivists as skilled professionals who care for archives and provide access to them; and
  • Highlights the key requirements for good archival management.

Through its endorsement of the Declaration, UNESCO strengthened the impact of the Declaration and encouraged each national UNESCO delegation to take its message to the government it represents. 

We urge the Trump Administration to reverse the decision to withdraw and instead retain our nation’s membership in UNESCO.

1 Comment(s) to the "SAA Statement on U.S. Intention to Withdraw from UNESCO"
MyNameIs says:
UNESCO status

In the first sentence the statement correctly notes that the US is changing its status to observer rather than participant. In the next sentence it states this is an "abandonment" of UNESCO.  This does not seem to meet the definition of observer status.  Second, while the statement does a good job of articulating the UNESCO mission generally and how it aids archives in particular, it does not address at all the issues that led to this action.  If one read this SAA statement without knowledge of the background of recent UNESCO decsions, one might assume that this decision was somehow unrelaed to that issue (in actuality a series of issues over recent years) and had more to do with an implied disagreement of the current administration over some aspect of UNESCO's stated mission of world heritage protection.