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World: The February Dues-Paying Blues Plague UN

More UN members than usual are in arrears on paying their UN dues, depriving them of the right to vote in the General Assembly and hampering especially costly programs like peacekeeping. Some of the biggest outstanding bills are owed by Iraq, Yugoslavia, Ukraine, and Moldova. RFE/RL's UN correspondent Robert McMahon looks at the annual problem of dues paying.

United Nations, 8 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- If the UN General Assembly was to meet this week, about one quarter of its members would not have the right to vote. The deadline for paying this year's dues was Jan. 31 and 52 members have fallen a full two years behind in dues, automatically disqualifying them to vote in General Assembly matters.

Part of this is a seasonal phenomenon. The General Assembly does most of its business in autumn and most member states, working under different fiscal years, are usually paid up by the time the Assembly begins its new session each September.

Still, UN officials say this year's list of non-payers is higher than normal with shortfall of tens of millions of dollars in regular dues. The debt to peacekeeping operations is far steeper -- more than $2 billion at last count.

A UN spokesman, Farhan Haq, told our correspondent that the world body's only punitive power to use against members who don't pay is loss of voting rights in the General Assembly, which can be a source of embarrassment.

"The payment of dues is a treaty obligation. It's part of the United Nations charter, so countries that sign up to the UN charter therefore undertake as part of their obligations as a UN member to pay their dues in full, on time and without pre-conditions. So as a result, if there are countries that are perennially on this list, we simply encourage them to pay their dues until that happens, of course, they will not have their voting rights in the General Assembly."

Last year, 11 member states lost their voting rights in the General Assembly for non-payment of dues. They included Iraq, Kyrgyzstan and Yugoslavia, which has been suspended from the General Assembly since the early 1990s. All three are on this year's list of members in arrears as well. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Tajikistan and Georgia are also in arrears but have been permitted by the General Assembly to vote until this summer because they are seen to be facing dire conditions domestically.

Another country on the list of members in arrears -- Ukraine -- is in the unusual position of still having a vote on the Security Council. Ukraine is a temporary member of the council until next year. It needs to pay a minimum of about $15 million this year to regain voting rights in the General Assembly.

Other states in arrears include Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Latvia, and Moldova.

The United Nations has three budgetary accounts -- the regular budget, the peacekeeping budget and the budget for the two international tribunals, for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. There are a small group of countries, including Latvia and Kyrgyzstan, which have paid their regular dues on time but have lost their voting rights for the time being because their arrears for peacekeeping and tribunal contributions has exceeded the two-year limit. For Latvia, the shortfall is only about $22,000 but for Kyrgyzstan, the figure is nearly $800,000.

Paying dues on time is not only a matter of saving face but of allowing the world body to support its increasingly widespread operations. Ambitious new peacekeeping operations planned for East Timor and Africa, as well as the current missions in places such as Kosovo and Bosnia, will need an infusion of funds. Haq, of the UN spokesman's office, says the arrears of more than $2 billion for peacekeeping operations is posing tremendous difficulties.

"One of the immediate consequences of this is the United Nations simply cannot afford to pay the countries which contribute the troops to UN peacekeeping operations. In the long term, this may discourage countries from providing troops to the UN which is a tremendous calamity if there is ever a crisis for which the UN needs troops desperately and cannot find countries willing to participate. In the short run, the burden is on the countries who have contributed the troops who are obligated to pay their soldiers but who are not receiving the reimbursements they expect from the United Nations and this includes many countries which are actually quite poor, countries like Fiji and Bangladesh and many African countries are very reliable troop contributors and yet they currently have to pay the financial burden which is often accrued by countries who are far richer than the countries that are contributing these troops."

Haq says he does expect most of the members on the arrears list to follow previous patterns and pay up in time for the General Assembly session in September. But until then, the United Nations will continue to post its "honor roll" of dues-paying members and press, diplomatically, for payment.

Selected List of UN Members in Heavy Arrears

The following is a list of some of the 52 member states in arrears and the minimum payments necessary to regain voting rights in the General Assembly (in U.S. dollars):

AFGHANISTAN 134,200 IRAQ 11,134,000 KYRGYZSTAN 786,392 LATVIA 22,533 MOLDOVA 2,469,600 TURKMENISTAN 339,473 UKRAINE 15,035,154.91 UZBEKISTAN 1,245,400 YUGOSLAVIA 14,109,200

The following are some of the member states allowed to vote in the General Assembly until June 30, 2000 despite arrears: