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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

20 December 2005

U.S. Pushing Hard for U.N. Management Reform, Official Says

Progress made in some areas, but response to reform effort inadequate

By Rebecca Ford Mitchell
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- While pleased that progress has been made on two items on the agenda to reform the United Nations, the United States believes the response to calls for management reform at the world body has been inadequate, says a State Department official.

Kristen Silverberg, assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, said in a December 20 press briefing that agreement had been reached that morning on the formation of a U.N. Peacebuilding Commission to coordinate U.N. peacekeeping operations with its reconstruction and development functions.  (See related article.)

In addition, she said, the U.N. Democracy Fund, first called for by President Bush in 2004 and established last August, now has commitments from 20 nations for $44 million.  Countries supporting the democracy-promotion fund make voluntary contributions, beyond their regular U.N. assessments.

“These are important successes.  We’re very happy about them,” she said.  “However, one important point I’d like to make today is that the secretary [Condoleezza Rice] remains very concerned about the lack of progress on management reforms.”  

Several independent studies of the United Nations, including the Volcker reports commissioned by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to investigate the scandal-plagued U.N. Oil-for-Food Program, highlighted the need for management changes in personnel practices, program review and budget oversight, as well as the establishment of an ethics office and "whistle-blower" protections.  The U.N. General Assembly committed to undertaking these and other reforms in September. (See related article.)

But with management reform incomplete and the U.N. General Assembly ready to pass its biennial budget and make dues assessments based on its plans and priorities for the next two years, the United States is suggesting that a three-to-four month interim budget be adopted instead.  (See related article.)

“We are very open to other ideas that would ensure implementation of the [management] reforms,” Silverberg said.  “We have a lot of flexibility on the mechanism, but we think it’s enormously important that the United Nations move forward on management reforms early this year.” 

Secretary Rice, she said, “is fully resolved to push ethics and budget reforms,” and Ambassador John Bolton is speaking daily with U.N. colleagues from other countries to find ways to move the process forward.  The problem, she said, lies with the member states that must commit to resolutions to make the necessary changes happen.

“We think that there’s growing support for the notion that we need to take some strong action to make sure that management reforms are implemented,” she said.

Silverberg also said the United States supports modest expansion of the Security Council based on an aspiring country’s commitment to the United Nations, as shown by its contributions to peacekeeping operations or financial donations, and has shown it is “a responsible player in the international community” that respects, among other things, human rights and nonproliferation obligations.  “We’ve also said that we ought to look at the fact that the developing world is underrepresented on the council,” she added.

She said that the United States believes Japan should be on the council but has not expressed a view on any other countries.  Because of the important issues the council deals with, any expansion must be looked at in terms of making the body stronger and not undermining its effectiveness, she said.

On the matter of replacing the discredited U.N. Human Rights Commission with a new Human Rights Council, Silverberg said negotiations were continuing, especially in two areas of philosophical disagreement: membership criteria and the council’s mandate. 

The United States, she said, has proposed that no country under U.N. sanction for human-rights abuses could serve on the council, while others feel no country should be excluded from any U.N. body.  The United States rejects that argument, she said, because the original commission was discredited when some of the worst abusers of human rights co-opted its mission through their membership on the panel.

Silverberg said the United States thinks the council’s mandate should include drawing attention to grave and urgent cases of human rights abuse, while some other nations argue that embarrassing, country-specific resolutions should not be allowed.  “Again, we reject that,” she said.  “We think that it’s important to shine a bright light on human rights cases to encourage countries to correct them.”

For information on U.S. policy and activities at the United Nations, see The U.S. and United Nations Reform.

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

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