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UN Week – 4/11/11

April 11, 2011

John and Douglas Carey, Editors,

Contents of this issue:   NY Times error on the UN; State Dep’t clarifies.

          The venerable “Gray Lady” gave a misleading impression on April 6th about how the UN works. A signed article entitled “Recent U.N. Actions Show Policy Shift, Analysts Say,” referred to “a seminal moment in which an organization generally disinclined to intervene forcefully in the affairs of member states is showing a new willingness to take bold action to save lives, diplomats and analysts say.”

          One never knows how knowledgeable unidentified “analysts” may be about the UN, but certainly diplomats, if stationed there, would seldom if ever refer to the organization as if it had a mind of its own. Insiders know well that the organization is not “generally disinclined” to do or not to do anything, since it has no mind of its own.

The UN is simply a place, where people from almost every country in the world come to express their national concerns. Having no mind of its own, it has no inclinations or “willingness” of its own. What kind of measures are adopted at the UN is controlled not by the UN itself but by the votes of its members.

The votes of the US were described in detail in an 8-page Fact Sheet dated April 6th called “Advancing U.S. Interests at the United Nations.” Issued by the State Department on April 7th, this caught my eye: “The U.S. will run for re-election to the [UN Human Rights] Council in 2012 to continue this significant work [of improving the Council].” Such re-election would come during President Obama’s own re-election campaign, so he must believe a human rights initiative would not hurt him irreparably.

The text goes on to note that, “On behalf of the President, Ambassador Rice signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first new human rights treaty of the 21st century. In another important reversal of the previous Administration’s policy, President Obama an-nounced U.S. support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

Further, the statement noted that, “In a reversal of the previous Administration’s policies on LGBT rights at the UN, the U.S. supported a landmark General Assembly declaration condemning human rights violations based on sexual orientation.”

On the all-important question of paying UN dues, this is stated: “Working with the U.S. Congress, the Administration was able to clear hundreds of millions in arrears to the United Nations, which accumulated between 2005 and 2008, and is now working to stay current with payments to the Organization.”

A final note of pride in achievement is that, “The U.S. supported the appointment of Joan Dubinsky, an American, to head the UN ethics office.”

On April 7th, the Secretary-General visited Washington, and the following exchange took place:

SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m delighted to welcome Secretary General Ban here to the State Department. We have worked very closely together during my time as Secretary of State. We have a lot of issues to discuss, and I appreciate the Secretary General coming to Washington, meeting with members of Congress, talking about what he is doing in the UN, seeking support, and I’m looking forward to our discussion.

“SECRETARY GENERAL BAN: Thank you, Madam Secretary. It’s a great pleasure to see you again at the State Department. Today, I’ve had a series of very productive meetings with congressional leaders. I regard the strong cooperation and support between the United Nations and the United States is very important pillar for the United Nations to perform our mandate by the United Nations member states. And I believe that the stalwart support by the Obama Administration and Madam Secretary has never been more important than it is today, when we confront major challenges in Cote d’Ivoire, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Haiti. I am looking forward to having a frank discussion with the Secretary Clinton today as we are working together to address all these challenges to make a better world for all. Thank you very much.”

On April 7th, Ambassador Rice spoke to the House Foreign Relations Committee as follows: “I want to begin this morning by recalling the UN’s response to the crisis in Libya, which in my estimation, further reminds us of the value of the United Nations in an age of 21st-century challenges. With U.S. leadership, the Security Council swiftly authorized the use of force to save civilians at risk of mass slaughter, it established a no-fly zone, and imposed strong sanctions on the Qadhafi regime. With broad international support, we also suspended Libya from the UN Human Rights Council by consensus—a historic first.

“As we well know, America’s resources and influence are by no means limitless, and that’s why the United Nations is so important to our national security. It allows us to share the costs and burdens of tackling global problems, rather than leaving these problems untended or leaving the world to look to the United States alone.

“I therefore ask for this Committee’s support for the President’s budget request for the Contributions to International Organizations and to the CIPA accounts to help us advance U.S. national interests. Our leadership at the United Nations makes us more secure in at least five fundamental ways.

“First, the UN prevents conflict and keeps nations from slipping back into war. More than 120,000 military, police, and civilian peacekeepers are now deployed in 14 operations worldwide, in places such as Haiti, Sudan, and Liberia. Just 98 of those individuals are Americans in uniform, all serv-ing under U.S. command and control. UN missions in Iran* and Afghanistan are promoting stability so that American troops can come home faster. These are examples of burden-sharing at its best.

“Second, the United Nations helps halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Over the past two years, the United States led efforts that imposed the toughest sanctions to date on Iran and North Korea.

“Third, the United Nations helps isolate terrorists and human rights abusers by sanctioning individuals and companies associated with terrorism, atrocities, and cross-border crime.

“Fourth, UN humanitarian and development agencies go where nobody else will to provide desperately needed assistance. UN agencies deliver food, water, and medicine to those who need it most, from Darfur to Pakistan, and many other places around the world.

“Fifth, UN political efforts can help promote universal values that Americans hold dear, including human rights, democracy, and equality—whether it’s by spotlighting human rights abuses in Iran, North Korea, and Burma or offering critical support to interim governments in Egypt and Tunisia as they prepare for elections.

“Let me turn now briefly to our efforts to reform the United Nations and improve its management practice. Our agenda focuses on seven priorities. First, UN managers must enforce greater budget discipline. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as was noted, recently instructed senior managers to cut 3 percent from current budget levels—the first proposed reduction compared to the previous year of spending in ten years.

“Second, we continue to demand a culture of transparency and accountability for resources and results. We aggressively promote a strengthened, independent Office of Internal Oversight Services and an improved ethics framework and enhanced protection for whistleblowers.

“Third, we are pushing for a more mobile, meritocratic UN civilian workforce that incentivizes service in tough field assignments, rewards top performers, and removes dead wood.

“Fourth, we are improving protection of civilians by combating sexual violence in conflict zones, demanding accountability for war crimes, and strengthening UN field missions.

“Fifth, we are insisting on reasonable, achievable mandates for peacekeeping missions. Not a single new UN peacekeeping operation has been created in the last two years – not a single one – and in 2010, for the first time in six consecutive years, we closed missions and reduced the peacekeeping budget.

“Sixth, we are working to restructure the UN’s administrative and logistical support systems for peacekeeping missions to make them more efficient, cost-effective, and responsive to realities in the field.

“Finally, we are pressing the United Nations to finish overhauling the way it conducts day-to-day business, including upgrading its information-technology platforms, procurement practices, and accounting procedures.

“But the UN, we all agree, must also do more to live up to its founding principles. We have taken the Human Rights Council in a better direction, including by creating a new Special Rapporteur on Iran. But much more needs to be done. The Council must deal with human rights emergencies wherever they occur, and its membership should reflect those who respect human rights, not those who abuse them.

“We also continue to fight for fair and normal treatment everyday for Israel throughout the United Nations system. The tough issues between Israelis and Palestinians can be resolved only by direct negotiations between the parties, not in New York. That’s why the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution in February that risked hardening both sides’ positions. We consistently oppose anti-Israel resolutions in the Human Rights Council, the General Assembly, and wherever they may arise.

“The UN, we all agree, is far from perfect. But it delivers real results for every American by advancing U.S. security through genuine burden-sharing. That burden-sharing is more important than ever at a time when the threats don’t stop at our borders, when Americans are hurting and cutting back, and when American troops remain in harm’s way.”

That’s all for this April 11th issue of United Nations Week: News and Views. We’ll be back with the next issue. Meantime, do send along your own views on these or other UN matters to

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