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UN: Panel Says U.S. Must Lead Reform Of Troubled Body

A report commissioned by the U.S. Congress is urging Washington to lead reform efforts at the United Nations to revive the organization’s effectiveness and credibility. The U.S. study echoes many of the recommendations made by a UN panel three months ago, including the abolition of the Human Rights Commission and more robust genocide prevention efforts. But the report is likely to have more impact in Washington because its authors include top experts from both the Republican and Democratic parties.

Washington, 16 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The bipartisan U.S. task force says deep structural and management flaws are behind the problems plaguing the UN’s work and reputation.

The panel’s co-chairmen -- former U.S. Senator George Mitchell and former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich -- said yesterday that U.S. leadership is needed to help rescue the organization.

Gingrich listed familiar concerns, including UN management of the Iraq oil-for-food program, the sex abuse scandal of UN peacekeepers in the Congo, and what he called “criminal” regimes” serving on the UN Human Rights Commission.

“The scandals, the inefficiency, the failures are clear enough and vivid enough and repetitive enough that I think there’s a much deeper mood that something has to be fixed or the UN will simply cease to be relevant at some point,” Gingrich said.

The task force gives scores of recommendations. It seeks, for example, the establishment of an independent auditing board to improve efficiency and to give more influence on financial matters to members who pay larger dues to the UN.

The report calls for the Human Rights Commission to be replaced by a body of states with demonstrated commitment to rights and rule of law. The Bush administration, the task force says, must bolster the fledgling democracy caucus at the UN to make it a force for protecting human rights.

It also decries the limited Security Council response to mass killings in Darfur, Sudan. It says Washington must call upon UN members to affirm a responsibility of all governments to protect their citizens from genocide, mass killing and massive human rights violations.

Task force co-leader George Mitchell said this was one of the report’s most important conclusions.

“[In certain cases] a government’s abnegation of its responsibilities to its own people is so severe that the collective responsibility of nations cannot be denied. The United Nations Security Council can and should act in such cases. In the event the Security Council fails to act, its failure must not be used as an excuse by concerned members to avoid protective measures,” Mitchell said.

The task force found no consensus on Security Council expansion, a central issue of debate for many states. But in many other areas it reflected the priorities of a report commissioned earlier this year by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said Annan welcomed the U.S. report.

“[Annan] supports many of the recommendations, and believes that the task force’s call for a U.S. commitment to work with other member states and the UN staff is the best basis on which to pursue and achieve lasting reform,” Eckhard said.

The UN is alarmed by a separate U.S. congressional initiative due to be discussed today. Legislation supported by influential Congressman Henry Hyde would require the United States to withhold up to 50 percent of U.S. dues if the United Nations fails to carry out a number of reforms.

The White House informed Congress yesterday that it opposes the linking of dues to UN reforms.

Gingrich, of the congressional task force, said the group preferred to focus on action on reforms rather than threatening consequences:

“The view we took as a group was that we should first try to organize the democracies and get what we need done, that we did not reach an agreement either for or against withholding funds. But I would say that as a general rule, we think you withhold funds last, not first,” Gingrich said.

U.S. President George W. Bush has had a number of recent discussions with leaders, including Annan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, about UN reform.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan declined yesterday to address the specifics of the task force report.

“We want to make sure that we build as broad a consensus as possible when it comes to United Nations reform, and that's what we're working to do. And in terms of Secretary-General Annan, he is someone we have worked well with in the past and are continuing to work well with to make the United Nations a more effective organization,” McClellan said.

The U.S. Congress is due to discuss the task force report next week.