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Reforming the UNEdit

In recent years there have been many calls for reform of the United Nations. There is, however, little clarity, let alone consensus, about what "reform" might mean in practice. Some want the UN to play a greater or more effective role in world affairs, others want its role reduced to humanitarian work. In 2004 and 2005, allegations of mismanagement and corruption regarding the Oil-for-Food Programme for Iraq under Saddam Hussein led to renewed calls for reform.

An official reform programme was initiated by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan shortly after starting his first term on January 1, 1997. Reforms mentioned include changing the permanent membership of the Security Council (which currently reflects the power relations of 1945); making the bureaucracy more transparent, accountable and efficient; making the UN more democratic; and imposing an international tariff on arms manufacturers worldwide.

The United States Congress has shown particular concern with reforms related to UN effectiveness and efficiency. In November 2004, H.R. 4818 mandated the creation of a bipartisan Task Force to report to Congress on how to make the United Nations more effective in realizing the goals of its Charter. The Task Force came into being in January 2005, co-chaired by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell. In June 2005, the task force released "American Interests and UN Reform: Report of the Task Force on the United Nations," [1] with numerous recommendations on how to improve UN performance.

On June 17, 2005, the United States House of Representatives passed a bill (H.R. 2745) to slash funds to the UN in half by 2008 if it does not meet with certain criteria laid out in the legislation. This reflects years of complaints about anti-American and anti-Israeli bias in the United Nations. The United States of America is estimated to contribute about 22% of the UN's yearly budget, making this bill potentially devastating to the UN. The Bush administration and several former US ambassadors to the UN have warned that this may only strengthen anti-America sentiment around the world and would only serve to hurt current UN reform movements. The bill passed the House in June, and a parallel bill was introduced in the Senate by Gordon Smith on July 13 http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:s1394:. However, a number of leading Senate Republicans objected to the requirement that the US contributions be halved in the event that the UN failed to meet all of the criteria. The UN Management, Personnel, and Policy Reform Act of 2005 (S. 1383), introduced July 12, 2005 into the Senate by Sen. Coleman, Norm [R-MN] and Sen. Lugar, Richard [R-IN], called for similar reforms but left the withholding of dues to the discretion of the President [2]. As of December 2005, neither bill has come to a vote.

In September 2005, the United Nations convened a World Summit that brought together the heads of most of its 191 member states, in a plenary session of the General Assembly's 60th session. The UN billed the summit as "a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take bold decisions in the areas of development, security, human rights and reform of the United Nations" [3]. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had proposed that the summit agree upon a global “grand bargain” to reform the United Nations, revamping international systems for addressing peace and security, human rights and development to make those systems capable of addressing the extraordinary challenges facing the United Nations in the 21st century. No such grand bargain emerged. Instead, world leaders agreed upon piecemeal reforms: the creation of a Peacebuilding Commission to provide a central mechanism to help countries emerging from conflict; agreement that the international community has the right to step in when national governments fail to fulfil their “responsibility to protect” their own citizens from atrocity crimes, a vague promise to create a better UN institution on human rights, and agreement to devote more resources to the UN's internal oversight agency.

Although the UN's member states achieved little in the way of reform of the UN bureaucracy, Secretary General Kofi Annan continued to carry out reforms under his own authority. He established a ethics office, responsible for administering new financial disclosure and whistleblower protection policies. As of late December 2005, the UN Secretariat was completing a review of all General Assembly mandates more than five years old. That review is intended to provide the basis for decision-making by the member states about which duplicative or unnecessary programs should be eliminated.

Successes and failures in security issuesEdit

A large share of UN expenditures address the core UN mission of peace and security. The peacekeeping budget for the 2005-2006 fiscal year is approximately $5 billion (compared to approximately $1.5 billion over the same period for the UN core budget), with some 70,000 troops deployed in 17 missions around the world. The UN's activities have made a significant difference. The Human Security Report 2005 [4], produced by the Human Security Centre at the University of British Columbia with support from several governments and foundations, documented a dramatic, but largely unknown, decline in the number of wars, genocides and human rights abuses over the past decade. The Report, published by Oxford University Press, argued that the single most compelling explanation for these changes is found in the unprecedented upsurge of international activism, spearheaded by the UN, which took place in the wake of the Cold War. The Report singles out several specific investments that have paid off , p. 9:

° A sixfold increase in the number of missions to prevent wars mounted by the UN between 1990 and 2002. ° A fourfold increase in efforts to stop existing conflicts 1990-2002. ° A sevenfold increase in the number of ‘Friends of the Secretary-General’, ‘Contact Groups’ and other government-initiated mechanisms to support peacemaking and peacebuilding missions between 1990 and 2003. ° An elevenfold increase in the number of economic sanctions in place against regimes around the world between 1989 and 2001. ° A fourfold increase in the number of UN peacekeeping operations between 1987 and 1999.

These efforts were both more numerous and, on average, substantially larger and more complex that those of the Cold War era.

However, in many cases United Nations members have shown reluctance to achieve or enforce Security Council resolutions. In 2003, controversy surrounded the United States-led invasion of Iraq conducted in the face of strong disapproval by a majority of members and by Israel's decade-long defiance of resolutions calling for the dismantling of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Such failures stem from the UN's intergovernmental nature — in many respects it is an association of 191 member states who must reach consensus, not an independent organization. Even in the case of actions mandated by the 15-member Security Council, the UN Secretariat is rarely given the full resources needed to carry out the mandates.

  • Failure to encourage the developed world to act during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, when current Secretary General Kofi Annan worked in the peacekeeping department of the UN.
  • Failure by MONUC (UNSC Resolution 1291) to effectively intervene during the Second Congo War, which claimed nearly five million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 1998-2002 (with fighting reportedly continuing), and in carrying out and distributing humanitarian relief.
  • Failure to intervene during 1995 killings in Srebrenica, despite the fact that the UN designated it a "Safe Haven" for refugees and assigned 600 Dutch peacekeepers to protect it.
  • Failure to successfully deliver food to starving citizens of Somalia; the food was usually seized by local warlords instead of reaching those who needed it. A US/UN attempt to apprehend the warlords seizing these shipments resulted in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu.
  • Sexual abuse of girls by U.N. peacekeepers; In the Democratic Republic of the Congo it is reported that U.N. peacekeepers from several nations are sexually abusing and gang raping girls as young as 12 or 13. This abuse is called widespread and ongoing despite many revelations and probes by the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services.

[5][6]

Hypocrisy in committee membershipEdit

Inclusion on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights of nations, such as Sudan, Cuba and Libya, which demonstrably have abysmal records on human rights, and also Libya's chairmanship of this Commission, has been an issue. These countries, however, argue that Western countries, with their history of colonialist aggression and brutality, have no right to argue about membership of the Commission.

Oil-for-Food scandalEdit

The Oil-for-Food Programme established by the United Nations in 1996 and terminated in late 2003, was intended to allow Iraq to sell oil on the world market in exchange for food, medicine, and other humanitarian needs of ordinary Iraqi citizens who were affected by international economic sanctions, without allowing the Iraqi government to rebuild its military in the wake of the first Gulf War. It was discontinued in 2003 amidst allegations of widespread abuse and corruption; the former director, Benon Sevan of Cyprus, was first suspended, and then resigned from the United Nations as an interim progress report[7] of a UN-sponsored investigatory panel led by Paul Volcker concluded that Sevan had accepted bribes from the former Iraqi regime and recommended that his UN immunity be lifted, to allow for a criminal investigation.[8]

Under UN auspices, over US$65 billion worth of Iraqi oil was sold on the world market. Officially, about US$46 billion used for humanitarian needs, with additional revenue paying Gulf War reparations through a Compensation Fund, supporting UN administrative and operational costs for the programme (2.2 per cent), and paying costs for the weapons inspection programme (0.8 per cent).

Also implicated in the scandal is United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, whose son Kojo Annan is alleged to have illegally procured UN oil-for-food contracts on behalf of a Swiss company, Coctecna.


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