By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published June 23, 2005
Jacques Maritain was one of the principal founders of and French ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Attorney Jim Kelly now draws upon the French Catholic philosopher’s wisdom as a member since Jan. 1 of the U.S. National Commission to UNESCO, which provides expert advice in five program areas of education, natural science, social and human sciences, communications and culture.
The U.S. Commission was reestablished in January and will eventually have 100 members. The State Department appointed the Washington, D.C.-based Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies as one of the non-governmental organization members on the commission. As director of international affairs for the Federalist Society, Kelly is its representative on the commission, committee coordinator for the Social and Human Sciences Committee, and a member of the executive committee.
The mission of the Social and Human Sciences Committee is “to advance knowledge, standards and intellectual cooperation in order to facilitate social transformations where the values of justice, freedom and human dignity can be fully realized.”
“I consider it a great privilege to serve as the coordinator of the Social and Human Sciences Committee for the U.S. National Commission to UNESCO. First, I get to work with 10 very competent committee members who represent some of the nation’s leading policy think-tanks in the areas of human rights, human rights education, democracy promotion, bioethics, urban poverty and renewal, human security and peace, and environmental ethics,” he said.
But he added that “although they are positive about the work of UNESCO, these committee members realize, as did Maritain, that there is a danger in ‘kneeling toward the world’ by placing too much power in international organizations.”
In 1945 UNESCO was established as a U.N. agency based in Paris to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among nations through education, science and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, the rule of law and human rights and fundamental freedoms for all people of the world. The United States, as a founding member, supported UNESCO for three decades but dropped out in 1984 due to concern over mismanagement and other issues. But with the approval of the U.S. Congress and President Bush, the United States rejoined in 2003, deciding that in an age of globalization it is best to participate positively in the global organization.
Maritain envisioned that UNESCO could play an important role in bringing diverse nations, philosophers and technical experts together to discuss issues of global concern, but at the same time, Kelly said, he did not feel that individuals should be forced to abandon the truth of their religious beliefs as they pursued human fellowship with others in the international community.
In recent years the Social and Human Sciences Sector of UNESCO has focused on issues pertaining to the ethics of science and technology, and its Program on the Ethics of Science and Technology aims to place such progress in a context of ethical reflection rooted in the cultural, legal, philosophical and religious heritage of the various human communities.
In January Kelly attended a UNESCO conference in Paris dedicated to consideration of a Draft Declaration on Universal Norms on Bioethics. If approved at the October UNESCO General Conference this declaration would be the third international declaration adopted by UNESCO in the field of ethics of science and technology, the previous addressing the human genome and human genetic data. At present the main priorities of his committee are to advise the U.S. State Department in the negotiation of the international declaration, and in the promotion of human rights and civic education in post-conflict areas.
The attorney is also mindful that truth cannot be sacrificed in pursuit of human fellowship and consensus.
“As it participates in UNESCO intergovernmental negotiations on the ethics of science and technology, the United States delegation has promoted the importance of respecting human life and dignity. Remarkably, this position has met with resistance from those nations that believe human rights are authored and granted by the U.N. and international treaties and declarations entered into by its member states.”