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US Lawmakers Keep Up Criticism of UN

Members of the U.S. Congress have kept up their criticism of the United Nations, repeating calls for extensive reforms, as Congressoinal committees held more hearings regarding one key U.N. body, the Commission on Human Rights.

Some lawmakers want U.S. aid and assistance to countries linked to U.N. voting records, especially on issues on which Israel has traditionally been subject to virtual automatic condemnation despite opposition by the United States and others.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called a hearing of her House Middle East Subcommittee to discuss a bias against Israel she and others say has long been pervasive at the United Nations:

"A critical component of our efforts to promote reform at the United Nations must include measures to ensure that Israel is afforded equal treatment and representation, while addressing the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic component that is pervasive in many U.N. bodies and its affiliated agencies," she said.

Philo Dibble, principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, says Israel has long been the target of unbalanced, one-sided resolutions, something the United States is working to address:

"Those efforts have borne some fruit. Analysis of voting on the three key anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N. General Assembly over the past three years shows a trend away from Israel-bashing. However, the percentage of votes in favor of these resolutions, still close to 60 percent, shows there is still a long way to go and underscores the need to maintain an aggressive diplomacy with each new session," he said.

Mr. Dibble adds that on Mideast issues such as efforts to obtain Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon, and Iraq, the United Nations has played an important role.

However, Richard Williamson, a former U.S. Representative for Special Political Affairs to the United Nations, focuses on the anti-Israel component: "What we see in the Lebanese situation is a value the U.N. can help bring. In Iraq, a very mixed record. And generally on Israel, it has been a shameful performance that has undermined and discredited the institution and certainly been inconsistent with the values of the charter," he said.

This week, another House committee focused on what its chairman calls reasons the United Nations is no longer promoting and protecting core human rights in its charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Republican Congressman Chris Smith heads the Subcommittee on Global Human Rights, and has these recommendations, which are also supported by others in the Congress. "Countries under U.N. Security Council sanction should not be given leadership positions on human rights issues, that should be a no-brainer. The role of NGO [Non Government Organizations] which are the fearless eyes and ears in so many places around the world need to be strengthened. The activities of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should be better targeted and focused on training and reporting in the field. The democracy caucus needs to be bolstered as a counter-weight to other alliances of non-democratic states," he said.

Congressman Smith notes while the U.N. Commission on Human Rights approved resolutions concerning Cuba and Belarus, there were none on Zimbabwe, Turkmenistan or China.

Former U.S. representative to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, Richard Schifter, says the United Nations continues to have embedded within it an anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda apparatus and culture. "What is particularly sad to note though is how the anti-Israel culture fostered at the United Nations has infected the missions accredited there, and how it intertwines with anti-Americanism and anti-semitism," he said.

He says Congress could play a greater role in the difficult task of trying to change this kind of climate, if its members made a point of communicating their views directly to country representatives at the United Nations.