UN: U.S. Senate Committee Calls For Implemention Of Reforms
By Nikola Krastev
The United Nations has been rocked in recent years by a series of scandals that have sparked widespread calls for it to institute reforms. The scandals include corruption surrounding the UN administered oil-for-food program for Iraq, accusations of sexual exploitation of minors by some UN peacekeepers and staff, and tainted procurement practices. The United States, the largest contributor to the UN's budget, is among its sternest critics for not addressing the problems earlier. Now, as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan leads efforts at reform, there are signs the U.S. position is turning from criticism to support. On 6 February, a delegation of top U.S. senators visited the UN to back Annan's efforts and underline the importance Washington places on the world body.
UNITED NATIONS, 7 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, used the visit to urge the UN to start implementing reforms.
Speaking to the Security Council, he said Americans remain concerned about the scandals associated with the UN.
"Americans, like people throughout the world, also want to ensure that the United Nations is free of waste and corruption," Lugar said. "They are deeply concerned by the oil-for-food scandal and the evolving investigation of kickbacks and rigged contracts in the UN's own procurement division. They understand that the influence and capabilities possessed by the United Nations come from the credibility associated with countries acting together in a well-established forum with well-established rules. Profiteering, mismanagement, and bureaucratic stonewalling squander this precious resource."
Lugar particularly underlined the need for transparency, efficiency, and accountability. Those are issues that have plagued the UN for years and are at the core of the reform package pushed by the United States and supported by Great Britain, Australia, Canada, France, and Germany.
Ethics Are Important
Several of the reforms that Lugar advocated have already been initiated by the UN, for instance additional funding for an ethics office. Among related reforms are lowering limits on gifts to UN officials and establishing a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual exploitation by UN personnel.
In recent years, there have been frequent reports and criticism regarding the conduct of some UN peacekeepers and staff stationed in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cambodia. Notably, a UN report last year documented 150 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Other reforms that have already been initiated are the strengthening of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, the launching of a review of UN mandates that are more than five years old, and the creation of a whistleblower protection policy.
New Human Rights Body
While citing a need for a general tightening of ethical controls at the UN, Washington has also pushed hard for reform of the body's Commission on Human Rights. The United States says the commission has been co-opted by some of the world's worst human rights abusers, including Sudan, Zimbabwe, and China.
Lugar used his visit to emphasize the importance of establishing the new UN Human Rights Council.
"One reform that is critically necessary is establishing a respected Human Rights Council to replace the Human Rights Commission, which has been discredited because of the membership of repressive and undemocratic regimes," he said. "The membership criteria of the new council must ensure that those elected to it observe human rights and abide by the rule of law."
UN chief Annan has earlier said that the current 53-member Commission on Human Rights "casts a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations as a whole." But UN member states differ over how to reform it.
Washington has suggested that the five permanent members of the Security Council, including the United States, be guaranteed seats on a new council to replace the commission. But some other states have called that proposal self-serving.
A Unique Chance
Senator George Voinovich, another member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee who accompanied Lugar, said that all the world attention now being paid to the UN’s scandals presents a unique opportunity to revamp the organization:.
"We want to make it a much stronger organization, we want to be able to reach out to all of the needs that are out there in the world today. And unless we take advantage of this unique opportunity, its [UN] relevancy is going to become less, and many of the things that our brothers and sisters [member states] want will not occur because we will lose the political constituency we need to keep the United Nations vibrant," Voinovich said.
Although there are different views on the role of the United Nations among the members of the U.S. Senate, one common belief is that it is a vital component to addressing transnational problems confronting each of its member states.
Lugar said there is an understanding that America’s problems cannot be solved in isolation from the world community.
"We understand that the United States must not only speak clear truths, it must also listen and learn from others," he said. "We know that we are part of much larger world that has intellectual, scientific, and moral wisdom that can supplement our own knowledge and experiences."
Copyright (c) 2006. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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