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The Right Reform
Scrutinizing attempts at fixing the United Nations.


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Anne Bayefsky

Two efforts in the Senate this week on United Nations reform, one from Senators Coleman and Lugar and the other from Senators Smith, Kyl, Coburn, Inhofe and Vitter, make it clear that there is a tug-of-war going on between Congress and the United Nations. What is not so clear is who is on which side and why.

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We do know about the scandals and the reason behind the calls for reform that have grown louder over the past year: Oil-for-Food and the theft of billions of dollars by a tyrant through U.N. hands. Grossly inadequate U.N. oversight and accounting practices. U.N. peacekeepers that rape the refugees they were assigned to protect. Mishandling of serious in-house sexual-harassment charges by the secretary-general. An inflated renovation price tag quietly presented as a fait accompli. Impotence in the face of genocide in Sudan. Pandemic anti-Semitism coursing through the veins of major U.N. bodies, along with double standards applied only to the Jewish state. An inability to define terrorism and adopt a terrorism convention, that would point in the direction of a host of Islamic terrorist organizations and their state sponsors.

We also know about the various suggestions for “reform” put forward reluctantly by many, passionately by others. There are the proposals of Secretary General Kofi Annan grasping for a lifeline. He concentrates on problems and solutions that lie with member states, not with the multiple capacities and responsibilities of his office and the U.N. secretariat . Yet he is only too happy to trot out for other occasions that the U.N. is larger than the sum of its parts–witness his demands for full partnership in the Middle East Quartet.

Then there are the proposals of the so-called non-aligned movement–the 115 countries who are aligned against the interests of the United States and very often against the interests of democracy. They want more U.N., more seats in central U.N. bodies like the Security Council, more development funds for themselves without those nasty democratic “pre-conditions,” more representation on an expanded human rights council or commission, and more time to figure out what counts as terrorism somewhere in the unforeseeable future.

Not far behind are the proposals of Western democratic states unsatisfied with their lot in life, such as Canada, Germany, and Japan. Their goals conflict: Germany and Japan want additional permanent, non-rotational seats on the Security Council on the assumption they are bound to be the immediate benefactors. Canada wants more rotating seats, since the likelihood of its getting a non-rotational permanent seat is zero.

Of course, all this is in the name of altruistic multilateralism and the eclipse of the hegemony of the proverbial bad guy, the United States.

Into the fray steps Congress. A tough bill championed by Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations committee, was adopted in the House in June. It would set down detailed reform requirements and put in place mandatory reductions in U.S. contributions to the U.N. should those reforms not occur. The State Department then railed against having its wings clipped, the Europeans jumped up and down, and the administration began worrying about “discretion” to confront its nemesis. So the Coleman/Lugar bill which was introduced last Tuesday, the “United Nations Management, Personnel, and Policy Reform Act of 2005,” presents reduced reform demands and makes all cuts in contributions discretionary.

Unperturbed by the good-cop routine, Senator Smith and others introduced the Hyde bill as “The United Nations Reform Act 2005.” In one possible scenario, they may present it this week as an amendment to the Foreign Operations Appropriation bill, and avoid the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from which it would never emerge. If so, the Coleman/Lugar bill may be presented as a second amendment and voted upon first. In the meantime, quick hearings on the Coleman/Lugar bill are scheduled for Thursday.

In the background, we hear the familiar hysterical cries about unilateralism from the selfless French, Russians, and Chinese, who are busy keeping their business buddies in Sudan and Iran off the Security Council agenda. Similar sputterings are coming from the magnanimous members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (with countries like Saudi Arabia having assessed U.N. contributions of a whopping 0.557 of the U.N.’s regular budget). And worming into every Washington nook and cranny is the secretary general and Ted Turner’s U.N. Foundation machine, fighting for their unearned, unaccountable seats at the table.

Democracy as a Requirement

I personally like the story line where the secretary general announces–as he repeated last week–”I think we all have to admit that the [security] council can be more democratic and more representative…There is a democracy deficit in the U.N. governance that has to be corrected.” Delivered with not the slightest embarrassment that the very same quarters object to any suggestion that reform contain a prerequisite for Security Council membership–such as actually being a democratic country.

On the contrary, democracy U.N.-style means idealizing the general assembly, despite the fact that only 88 of 191 members are full democracies (according to Freedom House). As the Chinese position paper on U.N. reform, distributed in June, puts it: “Reforms should be based on democratic…consultations and…consensus…The general assembly is an important body of democratic decision-making”–and while they’re at it “UN reforms should observe the following principles…non-interference in internal affairs.” Long live the tyranny of the U.N. majority.

If ever there was a time to call the bluff of those praying at the altar of the U.N., the playground for never-ending overtime on nuclear proliferation, genocide, and terrorism, it is now.

If indeed the Bush administration really disavows the advantages of non-discretionary protection of taxpayer dollars for the U.N., some form of the Coleman/Lugar bill is most likely to survive. It is therefore imperative that the bill be significantly strengthened to match the threat the U.N. poses to American interests.

As it now stands, on the “reform” of the U.N. Human Rights Commission-Council, the Coleman/Lugar bill contains a call:

SEC. 9(2) …to create a Human Rights Council, composed of Member States that commit themselves to upholding the values embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…

(8) to make ineligible for membership on any United Nations human rights body a Member State that is–

(A) subject to sanctions by the Security Council; or

(B) under a Security Council-mandated investigation for human rights abuses;

Judging by this “criteria,” current U.N. Human Rights Commission members Cuba, China, and Zimbabwe can relax about their eligibility for the “reformed” Council. They have all ratified umpteen human-rights treaties “committing” themselves to upholding values galore, and the number of countries subject to Council sanctions or Council human-rights investigations is minuscule.

Instead, the bill should insist, consistent with the president’s overall foreign-policy goals, that a seriously reformed U.N. human-rights operation make ineligible for membership in any U.N. human-rights body a member state, or expert from a member state, that fails to uphold the values embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including respect for individual freedom, political liberty, and the rule of law, or which systematically violates the human rights of its own citizens.

As it stands, on the democratic character or agenda of the U.N., the bill asks merely:

SEC 9(4)–to strengthen the United Nations Democracy Caucus. (5) to establish a Democracy Fund at the United Nations, to be administered by the United Nations Democracy Caucus, which shall consider and recommend proposals for funding;

This provision is guaranteed to have little or no effect. The Democracy Caucus, which numbers about 125, contains dozens of countries that aren’t really democratic. Past U.S. efforts to strengthen it have already met with strong resistance, even from within the Organization of American States.

This is the time–à la the bill’s U.S. “leadership” role–to be upfront about what a democracy caucus within the U.N. should mean. The bill should insist that a Democracy Caucus be promoted which is comprised only of full-fledged democracies. Such a caucus should seek to promote democracy around the world through (i) monitoring of anti-democratic behavior, (ii) providing technical assistance to countries that wish to improve their mechanisms of democracy, and (iii) coordinating joint action and mutual support in the context of all U.N. activities.

And how about adding something that might really push pro-democracy reform? The bill could insist that the U.N, create an office to monitor democratic development, to identify performance indicators to assess democratic conditions, and to develop mechanisms to promote their fulfillment.

The Israel Test

Perhaps the most glaring omission from the bill is the real litmus test of U.N. reform–eliminating the U.N.’s egregiously discriminatory treatment of Israel and its virtual paralysis on fighting anti-Semitism. Despite the verbiage of the Secretary General he still refuses to appoint a special representative on anti-Semitism, lobby for what would be a first-ever General Assembly resolution specifically on anti-Semitism, or commission a report dedicated to the subject. The bill, however, contains not a single “finding” on Israel, anti-Semitism, and the U.N.. The only requirement, according to the bill:
SEC. 10. …the United States should use its voice and vote at the United Nations…(2) to recommend to the Western Europe and Others (WEOG) members that Israel be provided permanent membership in the regional grouping throughout the United Nations system.”

Recommend? The U.S. has been recommending for years that the exclusion of only Israel from full membership in a U.N. regional group, in violation of the Charter, come to an end. Why does the bill fail to call for the abolition of the U.N. machinery dedicated year-round to the demonization of the Jewish state? Former Speaker Newt Gingrich has gone on record calling for their abolition. If the hearings on the bill proceed as planned, illuminating the Democratic position via the slated appearance of former Senator George Mitchell would be in order.

The specifics are not complicated. What is needed is a call to abolish the following bodies or successors by any other names, their mandates, programs and activities: (a) the Division of Palestinian Rights, (b) the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, (c) the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, and (d) the special information program on the Question of Palestine.

At the end of the day, the Coleman/Lugar bill does not make withholding U.S. contributions to the U.N. automatic if reform fails–a weakness which will embolden the “let’s play the U.N.-reform game” crowd. But if the rationale is discretion on the bottom line, there is even greater justification for strong demands that finally address the fundamental failures of the U.N. and its abuse of American funds. Nothing, that is, but the pretense of cooperation and consensus that substitutes at the U.N. for progress.

Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a visiting professor at Touro and Metropolitan Colleges in New York..



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