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Time For Changes At The UN

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Time For Changes At The UN
By Congressman Joe Pitts

June 17, 2005

Later this month in San Francisco , representatives from around the world will gather to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations charter. Over the decades, the U.N. has played a central role in alleviating the suffering of the hungry and sick, helping to maintain peace among warring parties, and searching for weapons of mass destruction, along with a host of other indispensable functions.

But the system seems to breed abuse and fraud because the UN's huge bureaucracy is accountable to no one. Corruption is rampant in the U.N. system, as evidenced by the billions diverted from the Oil-for-Food program involving Saddam Hussein's Iraq; U.N. peacekeepers have raped and sexually abused children in Bosnia, Congo, Sierra Leone, and elsewhere; a culture of concealment makes rudimentary oversight of the U.N.'s finances virtually impossible; and a casual attitude toward conflict-of-interest rules undermines trust in the organization's basic governance.

Beyond these abuses, I have been involved with two issues in recent years that demonstrate the shortcomings of the United Nations. In one case, the UN has failed to muster opposition to a regime engaged in ethnic cleansing. In the other case, the UN has failed to keep its promise of managing a referendum for a nation currently occupied by a powerful ally of many nations in the West.

Burma is a nation ruled by a military regime, ironically called the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). The regime rules with a iron fist and has imprisoned the nation's elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. The SPDC is also guilty of untold numbers of crimes against humanity including: use of rape as weapon of terror, destruction of villages, attacks on ethnic minorities, use of slave labor, and drug trafficking. The United States has spoken out against the regime and has instituted sanctions, but very little has been done by the United Nations.

Western Sahara was a Spanish colony until Spain withdrew in 1975, but Sahrawi hopes for independence were dashed when Morocco promptly invaded. The UN's International Court of Justice ruled in October of 1975 that Morocco 's claim to Western Sahara was illegitimate. The Sahrawis have been fighting for liberation ever since.

The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (the government in exile) is recognized by the Organization of African Unity and by 75 individual nations as the legitimate government of Western Sahara . A 1991 UN-brokered cease-fire agreement promised a referendum for national self-determination, but Morocco has spent the succeeding decade doing everything in its power to prevent the referendum from actually taking place. The vote has yet to happen While the Sahrawis languish in exile, their leaders weigh continued patience against going back to war to regain their homeland, all because the United Nations has failed to keep its own promise.

These issues are indicative of systemic problems at the United Nations and they spurred the House to pass H.R. 2745, the Henry J. Hyde United Nations Reform Act of 2005, a comprehensive U.N. reform package developed over the course of last year to address these and other serious failings.

The American people provide more than $420 million to the U.N.'s budget. So 4.6 percent of the world's population pays 22 percent of the UN's budget (amount of dues determined by the size of the nation's economy). So we have a responsibility to monitor how the UN acts and how it spends our money. Today, that money is being used to underwrite abuse and corruption.

The legislation makes 39 reform recommendations. It states that fourteen of these reforms are mandatory. Of the remaining twenty-five cited in the bill, the UN can choose just four more in order to satisfy the requirements of the legislation. If the U.N. refuses to adopt these changes, Congress will withhold 50 percent of our nation's dues to the organization.

History shows us that when Congress threatens to withhold the UN's lifeblood - American taxpayer money - the U.N. acts. Sometimes it requires drastic measures to get the results we need at the U.N. Consequently, our bill ties payment of the U.S. assessed dues to U.N. reforms outlined in the legislation. If the U.N. fails to make these reforms by 2007, the U.S. will withhold 50 percent of its assessed dues.

With H.R. 2745, we targeted the issue, which is our lack of leverage in getting reforms through at the UN. This plan would give American taxpayers a voice on how the UN deals with issues like religious freedom, political oppression, weapons proliferation, and the widespread abuses of power that have plagued the U.N. since its earliest days. It also makes clear that elected representatives not bureaucrats are ultimately responsible for how taxpayer money is spent.

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