UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

17 June 2005

U.S. House Approves United Nations Reform Legislation

Measure's key provisions opposed by Bush administration

By Merle D. Kellerhals, Jr.
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation June 17 that calls for sweeping reforms at the United Nations, including an automatic 50 percent reduction in U.S. dues if a majority of 39 specific reforms are not implemented.

However, the White House advised the House June 16 that it had "serious concerns" with the legislation and asked Congress to reconsider its passage.  Because no companion bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate, it is uncertain whether the bill has a chance of becoming law.

The bill, named the Henry J. Hyde United Nations Reform Act of 2005 for the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, passed by a vote of 221-184.  It passed in the International Relations Committee June 8 by a vote of 25-22.

"No observer, be they passionate supporter or dismissive critic, can pretend that the current structure and operations of the U.N. represent an acceptable standard," Hyde said shortly after the committee passed the bill.

The legislation seeks to force the United Nations to improve its oversight and accountability in the wake of the scandal over the Iraqi Oil-for-Food Program, in which contractors were allegedly receiving kickbacks from the now deposed Saddam Hussein regime, and because of a series of investigations and reports citing numerous management problems at the United Nations.

However, Under Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said June 15 that withholding half of the U.S. dues "would deal a great blow to our credibility in the U.N. system, and it would have ramifications for the reliability of the United States as a friend and partner to the countries that comprise the U.N."

The United States, the largest contributor to the United Nations, pays approximately 22 percent of the organization's annual $2 billion general budget.

Burns said the United States wants reform at the United Nations but does not believe that withholding dues would be helpful and that such action would adversely limit the administration's flexibility in working with the organization.

"United Nations reform is a high priority for the president.  We want to make sure we are moving forward on comprehensive reform, and we're going to be laying out the proposals that we want to move forward on," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said.

The measure includes several critical proposals. Specifically, it would:

• Allow the United States to withhold up to 50 percent of dues payments if the United Nations does not make at least 32 of 39 operational reforms.  The secretary of state would have to certify that all of the bill's provisions have been met.

• Change funding for 18 U.N. programs from mandatory assessments to voluntary contributions.

• Create an independent oversight board, as well as establish a U.N. Office of Ethics.

• Require detailed financial disclosures for top U.N. officials to prevent such conflicts of interest as were revealed in the investigation of the Oil-for-Food Program.

• Ban any country that is under U.N. investigation for human rights violations from membership on the Human Rights Commission.

• Require new audits, qualification standards, and a code of conduct for U.N. peacekeeping missions.

The House also approved an amendment, by a 411-9 vote, that would direct the U.S. representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency to push it to make Iran ineligible to receive nuclear material or technology until it is in compliance with the agency's rules.

An alternative measure offered by Representative Tom Lantos, the senior Democrat on the House committee, was defeated by a vote of 216-190.  It would have offered the same range of reform proposals, but would not have mandated the withholding of U.S. dues if reforms were not forthcoming.  Instead, it would have given the secretary of state the authority to withhold dues.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list