Sunday, June 19, 2005

Why I have faith in the UN

When I tell people that I work on peacekeeping issues & UN Reform, they are impressed but many are also weary that the UN can be salvaged into an effective international institution for the 21st century. It irritates me but I can understand because before I started working for Citizens for Global Solutions five months ago, I felt the same way. But in some ways I have always believed in the UN, in international law & that in our interconnected world today, global problems require global solutions. The first time I heard Michael Jackson's Heal the World in Grade 5, I was moved to tears because I truly believed in the message of that song.

I call myself a realistic idealist because although I have a vision of a better & peaceful world, I am also very grounded in reality and work towards practical solutions for problems. That is why working on UN reform is so exciting - in March, Kofi Annan published a report called
In Larger Freedom where he proposed some groundbreaking proposals to for UN Reform – the most ambitious ones in the institution’s 60-year history.

These recommendations are now up for adoption by all the members during a summit in September. I have much hope that many of these amazing proposals will go through because over the past centuries, international law & norms have become more accepted as a norm. I'm not saying things are perfect right now and the genocide in Darfur, torture, and other human rights violations are examples of how much work still needs to be done. However, the fact that we can have the kind of debates about international law and sovereignty today is a huge step from where the world was even 10 or 20 years ago. My co-workers and I created an easy to read
Your Guide to UN Reform, so please check it out!

From the NY Times:

Going against President Bush's wishes, the House of Representatives narrowly approved a bill today that would withhold half the United States' dues to the United Nations unless the organization adopted significant internal changes.

The measure, passed by 221 to 184, is not necessarily close to final Congressional approval, since there is no companion bill pending in the Senate. Moreover, the margin in the House was far short of the two-thirds necessary to override a veto, should Mr. Bush choose to cast the first of his administration.

But the House action was significant enough that the administration tried hard to keep it from happening. President Bush has repeatedly said that reforms are needed in the United Nations, but he and his top aides have insisted that withholding Washington's dues from the organization would be counterproductive.

Critics in the administration and on Capitol Hill have expressed dismay over scandals like the one involving the oil-for-food program for Iraq that funneled money to Saddam Hussein and over rotating-membership rules that allow countries that abuse human rights to have seats on the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

The House bill approved today, which calls for the United Nations to comply with a long list of requirements by 2007 or face a loss of American funds, was sponsored by Representative Henry J. Hyde of Illinois, the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, and backed by Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the House majority leader.

"Let's begin real reform of the United Nations," Mr. Hyde said, envisioning "a long road ahead." Mr. DeLay said the ideals that marked the organization's founding 60 years ago now hover over it as "a reminder of its abject failure" and its decay into "a second-rate kleptocracy."
One of a handful of Republicans to oppose the measure, Representative Jim Leach of Iowa, said whatever corruption exists at the United Nations "is isolated, it is not endemic," and that most people who work for the organization are "honest and decent."

But the bill's supporters argued that conditions are much worse than that. "The American people today are underwriting rampant corruption," Mr. DeLay said.

Before voting for the final measure, the House rejected a proposal by Representative Tom Lantos of California, the ranking Democrat on the International Relations Committee, that the secretary of state be allowed to withhold United States' dues, but not be required to do so. The vote on that proposal was 216 to 190.

The Hyde bill was backed by 213 Republicans and 8 Democrats. It was opposed by 176 Democrats, 7 Republicans and the House's sole independent, Bernard Sanders of Vermont. Mr. Lantos's failed measure was supported by 180 Democrats, 9 Republicans and Mr. Sanders, and opposed by 211 Republicans and 5 Democrats.

The measure approved today is popular among conservatives. American dues to the United Nations total about $400 million a year, and State Department officials have expressed fear that refusing to pay them would cost Washington credibility. They say that is just what happened in the eyes of the world community when the United States withheld its dues for a time in the 1990's.

Despite the debate over how to change the United Nations, there is wide agreement that some changes are needed. A panel set up by Congress and headed by Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, and George J. Mitchell, a former Democratic Senate leader, released a report on Wednesday calling for corporate-style auditing units and accounting reforms.

President Bush, who has challenged the United Nations to demonstrate that it is more than an ineffectual debating society, has cited a need for reform as a good reason to install John R. Bolton as the United States' next ambassador to the United Nations. Mr. Bolton, a former under secretary of state who has been outspokenly critical of the organization, is to be considered by the Senate on Monday.