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SLUG: 2-325137 Congress / UN Reform (L-O)









HEADLINE: Congressional Committee Approves Tough UN Reform Legislation

INTRO: A key congressional committee has approved legislation proposing to link U.S. contributions to the United Nations to measurable standards of reform in the world body. VOA's Dan Robinson on Capitol Hill reports, some lawmakers opposed the bill, saying it would cause more problems for U.N. peacekeeping and other operations, and damage the credibility of the United States at the United Nations and its ability to work with other nations:

TEXT: The U.N. Reform Act of 2005 is the result of frustration among lawmakers about the failure of the United Nations to undertake reforms, and anger over scandals such as the one involving the former U.N. Oil for Food Program in Iraq.

Authored by the Republican chairman of the House International Relations Committee, Henry Hyde, the legislation proposes mandatory withholding of up to 50-percent of U.S. contributions if the United Nations does not reform in key areas including organization, budget, human rights, and internal accountability.

Congressman Hyde calls this leverage crucial to ensuing that reforms actually occurs:

/// HYDE ACT ///

"Even the U.N. itself has acknowledged the need for reform, and to its credit has put forward a number of useful proposals for consideration. But it cannot be expected to shoulder this burden alone or, human nature and institutional inertia being what it is, initiate some of the more difficult reforms."

/// END ACT ///

Mr. Hyde's bill would require a number of U.N. programs to be supported through voluntary contributions from member states and donors. If this is not done it would lead to mandatory cuts in U.S. dues.

The United States is the largest contributor to the United Nations, providing about 22-percent of the annual budget of about two billion dollars.

While they share concerns about scandals and U.N. inefficiencies, other lawmakers argued the legislation would violate international treaties and obligations, and have little chance of passage by the whole Congress.

Congressman Tom Lantos, the top Democrat on the committee, says the bill would undermine U.N. reform efforts and tie the hands of the Bush administration:

//// LANTOS ACT ///

"While many of the U.N. reforms being sought in this legislation are worthy goals, many require unanimous agreement by all 191 U.N. member states, including the likes of Iran and Syria. Why threaten to blow up the universe if the planets refuse to align. Once in a while they will line up, but not on demand and certainly not under threat."

/// END ACT ///

Mr. Lantos was unsuccessful in his effort to have the committee approve an alternative bill proposing to give the Secretary of State the option to reduce U.S. contributions, rather than make such cuts mandatory.

Indiana Republican Congressman Mike Pence, co-sponsor of the legislation, reflects the views of the sharpest critics of the U.N. in Congress who say lawmakers need to deliver an unambiguous message:

/// PENCE ACT ///

"We must send a clear and strong message to the United Nations after years of mis-administration and scandal, and we must back that message with decisive ramifications if those reforms are not made."

/// END ACT ///

Among provisions in the legislation is one that would withhold U.S. support for future U.N. peacekeeping missions, a reaction in part to revelations about sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers.

Congressman Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who has led a number of hearings on this subject, says the Hyde bill can only help efforts already underway to ensure the integrity and accountability of peacekeeping operations:

/// SMITH ACT ///

"The Hyde amendment puts additional impetus and push to that effort to let them know, even if they don't like some of the particulars, that we mean business and that the Congress is on the side of reform."

/// END ACT ///

Some Democrats who had supported the Lantos alternative, ended up voting for the Hyde legislation for many of the same reasons cited by its supporters.

Congresswoman Shelley Berkley is a Nevada Democrat:


"The United Nations could be and should be such an important force for world peace, and doing the right thing and implementing its original mission, and the fact that we have strayed so far from that I think is very unfortunate."

/// END ACT ///

Committee approval moves the legislation on to the full House (of Representatives) for a vote, but does not guarantee passage by Congress, since the Senate would have to craft and approve similar legislation.

The Bush administration has made clear it opposes the bill, saying its tough provisions are not practicable, and the reform program put forward by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan should be given a chance to work. (signed)


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