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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

26 January 2006

United States Not Trying To Shrink U.N., State's Lagon Says

Human Rights Council should be better than predecessor commission

Washington -- The United States is not trying to rein in the United Nations by advocating reform of the world body, says the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for international organization affairs.

Instead, Mark Lagon says, the United States wants to see U.N. resources applied effectively to the matters of highest priority.  The goal is not to cut U.N. programs but to shift existing resources from the least to the most important programs, he told a group of private and public sector development experts at a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Washington roundtable January 26.

Although some critics focus on the failings of the United Nations, Lagon said it should be given credit because it has done important work related to the promotion of democracy. He particularly singled out its electoral assistance efforts in places such as Iraq.

Lagon, who was part of a panel discussion entitled “Democracy, Human Rights and U.N. Reform,” also said that the proposed U.N. Human Rights Council should focus on field operations and help governments by providing technical assistance.  Asked about a timetable for the emergence of the council, which was conceived as a replacement body for the Commission on Human Rights, Lagon said it is “quite likely,” but not certain that it will come into being in 2006.

What is important, he said, is that the council should be an improvement on the existing commission.  The United States is not fixated on artificial deadlines for the birth of the new council, but is focused instead on how to “get it right,” he added. (See related article.)

Lagon also said the United States is pleased that the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDF) now exists.  He said the UNDF’s first board meeting will occur within weeks and that it already has a substantial number of partners.  The fund, first proposed by President Bush in 2004, is supported by voluntary donations from U.N. member countries and lends support to emerging democracies.

Lagon spoke alongside Magdy Martinez-Soliman of the UNDP’s Democratic Governance Division, who said the United Nations has to reform now because of too many perceptions in various parts of the world that the organization is expensive, clannish and vulnerable to mismanagement.  Reform, he said, means accomplishing more with less by streamlining operations and becoming more efficient and accountable.  And, the panelist said, the United States has a positive leadership role in the movement to reform the United Nations.

Martinez-Soliman also said the United Nations has been seen as timid in confronting human rights violations and needs to change its human rights machinery so it can assess problems better.  He predicted more humanitarian interventions in the future.

Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works on the spread of freedom worldwide, also spoke and praised Lagon for his efforts to reach out the community of nongovernmental organizations.  Preserving and strengthening the role of international NGOs is critical in supporting both democracy and human rights, she said.

Windsor said NGOs could be used to monitor activities in fledgling democracies and predicted that NGO influence will continue to grow.  When asked about countries that might seek to interfere in a neighbor’s attempt to build a democracy, she said it is important not to let the strong kick the weak.

The panelist also said that all democracies constantly should strive to improve their record of achievement especially in relation to minority or ethnic populations.

For additional information, see International Security and U.S. and United Nations Reform.

For more information about rule of law and human rights, see Democracy.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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