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House Panel Examines UN Reform

Former U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations have told Congress U.N. reform should be on top of the U.S. agenda in coming years.

In the first of three U.N.-related hearings this week, lawmakers reiterated their concerns about corruption in the United Nations, and voiced ongoing complaints about what many called United Nations bias against U.S. interests on Middle East and other issues.

Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, refers to a crisis of confidence in the United Nations, adding it is impossible to conclude that mismanagement and malfeasance are an isolated phenomenon:

"Even the most steadfast of U.N. supporters must concede that after more than half a century of operation, this many-faceted, sprawling entity is very much in need of focused scrutiny and extensive reform," he said.

Jeane Kirkpatrick was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under the Reagan administration from 1981 to 1985. She describes the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s, and Sudan's western Darfur region as examples of U.N. ineffectiveness.

But Mrs. Kirkpatrick reserves most of her criticism for the United Nations Human Rights Commission, calling it the worst of any U.N. body.

"The most egregious human rights violators have, in recent years, made a special point of running for election to the commission, and when they get on the commission seeking to twist it to their goals, which are not at all the goals any American or any democratic country would ever expect the commission on human rights would seek," she noted.

Richard Williamson, chief U.S. envoy to the United Nations from 2002 to 2003, says countries subject to human rights-related scrutiny should not be permitted to serve on the commission, and has this additional recommendation.

"We should eliminate [commission] agenda item eight on Israel,” he added. “It is the only country subjected to a country-specific agenda item, where those who use other U.N. forums for the same purpose, use the human rights commission to seek to de-legitimize the state of Israel, the oldest democracy in the Middle East."

Richard Holbrooke, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 1999 to 2001, says the United Nations faces a future in which it will become progressively weaker without U.S. support.

"If we continue to under-fund, under-support, and undermine the U.N. system it will become progressively weaker and at the same time it will become increasingly a center for hostility to the United States, a combination, a trifecta if you will, that will hurt American national security interests in many ways," he noted.

He suggests a stronger U.S. role in supporting and reforming the United Nations would help ensure the human rights commission acts more aggressively, while not falling under the control of rights violators.

"A weaker U.N. is one where the human rights commission is dominated by such terrible violators as Cuba and Libya,” he said. “In other words, what is wrong with the U.N. or the human rights commission, is not the core ideas that it stands for but the instances where due to lack of American engagement and leadership the institution was hijacked by states whose practices are anathema to all the U.N. stands for."

Former U.N. ambassador Madeleine Albright, who served under the administration of former President Bill Clinton, was unable to attend Tuesday's hearing.

Later this week, House committees will continue to examine United Nations-related issues.

The controversy over the former U.N. Oil for Food Program in Iraq, including allegations of high-level U.N. wrongdoing, will be the subject of a hearing Thursday. Another panel will consider the United Nations role in the war on terrorism.