Does UNESCO Really Protect the Young?

Barry Pittard. (2005).



Date: 02-01-05

The Case of the Missing Media Advisory

In its recent documentary, the BBC refers to Sathya Sai Baba as ‘The Secret Swami.’  India’s most famous and incredibly influential guru, Sathya Sai Baba claims to be God fully incarnate come to save the world before he leaves it. He turns 80 next November.

The Sathya Sai Central Trust receives mind-boggling charitable donations. The news agency reported, August 16, 2003, "The largest recipient of foreign contribution was Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust, Rs 88.18 crore (Rs 881.8 million)":  

The Prashanthi Council is the high command body of the multi-billion (any currency) guru cult that claims tens of millions of devotees, active in over 150 countries. In his ‘Radio Sai’ column, the council’s deputy chairman, Dr G. Venkataraman, refers to two high officials in the Government of India who intervened with UNESCO to get removed a UNESCO media advisory adversely naming Sathya Sai Baba from its official website: 

UNESCO has told the BBC, an Australian newspaper and others not connected with Sai Baba or his critics that the Advisory was withdrawn “as a result of a routine system purge.” However, the Venkataraman article and subsequent investigations by the BBC cast doubt on the version given by three UNESCO spokespersons.

One of the officials said to have intervened was Jaswant Singh, at the time India’s Foreign Minister in the recently defeated right-wing A.B. Vajpayee government, and a Sai Baba devotee, according to Venkataraman. The other, was “a top diplomat, another devotee of thirty years or so, and also India’s representative in UNESCO,” formerly India’s Ambassador to France.

The Media Advisory resulted from investigation (including checking with the French national police, the Sureté) of extensive documentary evidence sent to senior UNESCO officials by former Sai Baba devotees from several professional backgrounds and countries. This included sworn victim statements and parental testimony, alleging serial sexual abuse of young males by Sai Baba.


In short, as G. Venkataraman would have it, influence from high places in the Government of India got the Media Advisory pulled.


Unfortunately for those forces that would wish to suppress the Media Advisory, a copy was saved by the Internet Wayback Machine, and can be viewed at:


The Media Advisory, dated September 15, 2000, had announced UNESCO’s withdrawal from a large, international human values education conference scheduled at Puttaparthi, in South India, for September 25-29, 2000, along with UNESCO’s partner, the University of Flinders, South Australia. UNESCO stated that:

·        (it was) "deeply concerned about widely-reported allegations of sexual abuse involving youths and children" against Sai Baba, and objected to the actions of some of Sai Baba’s conference leaders.

·        “Certain decisions were taken by the ISSE (Institute of Sathya Sai Education) without consultation, such as plans to hold some of the sessions at the Ashram of the Sathya Sai movement in Puttaparthi, and

·        (there was) “the inclusion of some speakers in the conference programme without their previous consent.”

In the Radio Sai column referred to above, G. Venkataraman says -

·        “Both the Foreign Minister and this diplomat were terribly upset that nothing had been done this far, and now, all of a sudden the wheel began to crank.”

India’s UNESCO representative then wrote, according to G. Venkataraman, to UNESCO’s Deputy Director General saying that:

·        “the “Government of India considers Sri Sathya Sai Baba and his movement a national asset and takes strong exception to UNESCO press release, which spreads wholly unfounded and unsubstantiated allegation  against Sri Sathya Sai Baba. I would therefore request you to take immediate steps to remove the objectionable press advisory from the UNESCO website. I would also appreciate an expression of regret for the damage caused to one of India's revered public figures, without first verifying the facts and any consultation with Indian authorities.” 

Dr. Venkataraman quotes what he claims to be the letter of reply to India’s UNESCO representative by UNESCO’s Deputy Director General:

·        “I do appreciate this concern and wish to inform you that following your personal intervention, the media advisory in question was immediately withdrawn from the archives of the UNESCO's web site for education.

I should also like to take this opportunity to say how much the Organisation regrets this unfortunate incident and to reiterate to you, on behalf of the Director General, that the Organisation attaches the greatest importance to the varied forms of fruitful collaboration that we have enjoyed with your country for many years.

I hope this letter will set your mind at rest and dispel any misunderstanding.”

The Deputy Director General’s statement about the Advisory being “immediately withdrawn” contradicts a number of statements emerging from no fewer than three of his official spokespersons - Isabel le Fournis, the late Elke Salas Rossenbach, and Sue Williams.

The UNESCO (Paris) has told several enquirers that the Advisory was deleted from their website in "a routine purge"This account diverges seriously from G. Venkataraman’s account. In early May 2004, the BBC showed the Deputy Director General’s letter to his representative, Sue Williams, Chief of Section, Bureau of Public Information, and she did not deny, although did not confirm, that he wrote such a letter.

Some of the enquirers who have spoken to UNESCO have nothing to do with the exposure of Sathya Sai Baba, but contacted UNESCO as required by their institutional responsibilities:

  • Garth Wynne, Headmaster of Christ Church Grammar School, Perth, Western Australia, has said that this UNESCO Office’s spokesperson Isabel le Fournis told him in early February 2004 that the Advisory was withdrawn “as a result of a routine system purge.”  Contact details: Ph. +61 8 9442 1555. Fax +61 8 9442 1690. Isabel le Fournis:

  • Torrance Mendez, award-winning journalist confirms that Isabel le Fournis gave the same information to The West Australian newspaper in an email dated February 5, 2004, 10.32 pm. Contact details: Ph. +61 8 9482 3231

  •  David Savill, Assistant Producer, BBC was told the same by Sue Williams, Chief of Section, Bureau of Public Information, UNESCO, and that indeed "there was no ghost in the  machine." (See below)Contact details:  Room 1355 White City. Wood Lane. London. Ph. 0208 75 27502 > 07947 258 254

I have an email (Tue, 30 Mar 2004 12:25:17 +0200) from the then Director, Bureau of Public Information, the late Elke Salas Rossenbach, who preceded Sue Williams in this matter. After some prompting, Ms Rossenbach wrote to me: “This results from a routine operation to purge and update the site.”  Ms Williams’s contact details: . Ph.+33 (0)1 45 68 17 06. Fax: +33 (0)1 45 68 56 59 

I also have a copy of a letter by Sue Williams, dated May 13, 2004, in which she states:

·        “the media advisory dealing with this issue resulted from a routine operation to purge and update the site. 

In the same letter, Sue Williams also writes:

·        “UNESCO having had no further relationship directly or indirectly with the Institute of  Sathya Sai Education, and there having been no new information brought to its attention, the Organization cannot, at this time, make any further comment on the subject.”

Yet here we have Dr Venkataraman’s testimony that the Deputy Director General (note: Ms Williams’s own boss) had indeed been so much in touch with the issue as to have written an abjectly apologetic letter to India’s chief representative to UNESCO stating that:

·        “following your personal intervention, the media advisory in question was immediately withdrawn from the archives of the UNESCO's web site for education.”

(Note: Cc’d recipients of this letter were: Louise Fréchette, Deputy Secretary-General the United Nations; Abdul Waheed Khan, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, UNESCO; Phillip Stonehouse, Executive Director, South Asia, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia; Glen Meloy, formerly member of the first Advisory Board of the Sathya Sai Society of America and Co-Manager, Sathya Sai Book Center of America, Tustin, California, USA).

BBC Enquiries Confirm Collusion Between UNESCO and Sathya Sai Organisation

Unfortunately for the credibility of the UNESCO Bureau of Public Information, the BBC was armed with a copy of G. Venkataraman’s article. Eamon Hardy, producer of the BBC documentary highly critical of Sai Baba and his leaders, ‘The Secret Swami,’ had also seen a relevant UNESCO letter when speaking at Puttaparthi with Sai Baba's world chairman, Dr Michael. Goldstein. (This was in the BBC/Puttaparthi  ‘honeymoon’ period just before the BBC tried to question Dr Goldstein about the worldwide allegations against Sai Baba, resulting in the BBC’s immediate eviction by Sathya Sai Baba’s officials. ‘The Secret Swami’ has already been telecast to many countries throughout the world, in some a number of times)

Furthermore, BBC staff spoke to India's then Permanent Representative to UNESCO, Mrs Neelam Sabharwal, (since named India's Ambassador to Cyprus), and were greeted with the blank statement that "Sai Baba is a respected Godman" and no, she didn't know why UNESCO had issued a media advisory and that it had been withdrawn. Really?!

Having sensed serious UNESCO contradiction and evasion - particularly in the light of the Venkataraman material - the BBC first tactically held back and then released the whole Venkataraman piece to the UNESCO official, Sue Williams, whose immediate boss is the Deputy Director General.  After repeated pressure from the BBC via phone and email, Ms Williams wrote to the BBC:

·        “UNESCO does not regret issuing the media release of September 15 2000".

In short, UNESCO repudiated, then - hard-pressed and cornered by the world’s most famous broadcaster - retracted its repudiation. Unfortunately, the exposure came too late to be included in the documentary. Indeed, the BBC holds over 80 hours of footage of powerful testimony against Sai Baba containing allegations that depict large scale serial sexual abuse of males from many countries.  

It is a shock to experience leading UNESCO officials giving every appearance of first repeatedly evading, then lying and covering up. When institutions such as the Church of Christ Grammar School and media such as The West Australian and the BBC contacted this UNESCO Bureau of Public Information, they were told that the earlier Media Advisory "does not now reflect UNESCO's position".

Such a statement most wrongfully and hurtfully undermines the credibility of many former devotees around the world, citizens in excellent standing in their professions and wider communities - including those who shared, with considerable effort, especially emotionally, with the senior UNESCO officials their terribly painful stories of sexual abuse at the hands of Sathya Sai Baba, which led, only after strenuous investigation by its senior officials, to UNESCO's earlier posting of the Media Advisory. 

Should UNESCO allow itself to be any part of a profound, corrupt cover-up by any government and institution of revelations that would, for example, endanger such vast overseas cash flows as those the Sathya Sai Central Trust attracts to India?

If UNESCO should refuse to honor to the public and the media the correction enforced from Sue Williams by the BBC - in other words, the Williams retraction of the le Fournis-Rossenbach-Williams repudiations - the organisation will stand condemned for failing to apply to itself the UN Covenant on the Rights of the Child, one of the UN's own most important covenants.