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Some US Congress Members Demand Reforms at United Nations

Some members of the U.S. Congress continue to demand reforms at the United Nations, following reports of corruption by U.N. staff and sexual abuse by peacekeepers. Some say the United States should consider halting funds for the world body unless changes are made.

The United Nations spends billions each year in money from donor nations on peacekeeping operations, food programs, and poverty alleviation. Republican Representative Henry Hyde of Illinois says these U.N. relief programs are crucial around the world.

“But we are opposed to legendary bureaucratization, to political grandstanding, to billions of dollars spent on multitudes of programs with meager results, to the outright misappropriation of funds represented by the emerging scandal regarding the oil-for-food program,” says Henry Hyde.

The Oil-for-Food Program imposed restrictions on Iraq, but a report last year showed that poor enforcement allowed Saddam Hussein to make billions in illegal oil sales. Chief of staff to the U.N. Secretary General, Mark Malloch Brown, says the report exposed other problems at the U.N.

He says, “We do not have adequate audit arrangements and they need to be strengthened. That financial disclosure rules are not sufficient. That we do not have adequate whistle blowing arrangements, to ensure that any staff member who volunteers information about misdoings in the organization will be protected from unfair recriminations.”

Management failures like these have raised questions about the effectiveness of the U.N. and Secretary-General Kofi Annan. While Mr. Annan has promised sweeping changes, Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California is not convinced. She says, “I'm not so certain what exactly the leadership of the United Nations has decided, whether to be part of the solution or part of the problem. But we know one thing: we're insisting that they're not above the law.”

One way to ensure U.N. leaders are held to account, Mr. Rohrabacher says, is by withholding U.S. funds - the largest source of money to the U.N. But that would threaten critical programs, like support for African peacekeepers and relief programs in Sudan's Darfur region, according to the U.N.'s Malloch Brown.

“Because this for me is the real litmus test for effective U.N. reform, that Darfur doesn't happen in terms of deteriorating into a possible new round of massive human rights violations,” says Malloch Brown.

Fighting erupted in Darfur more than two years ago, but so far the U.N. Security Council has failed to agree on how to end the violence. And Representative Tom Lantos of California, a Democrat, says now is the wrong time for the United States to disengage from the international community.

“Refusing to pay dues in order to force reform violates our international obligations, and makes a mockery of the doctrine of accountability and ethical conduct that we are pressing upon the United Nations,” says Mr. Lantos.

The Bush administration is supporting reform efforts at the United Nations, and says its nominee to become U.N. ambassador, John Bolton, if approved by the U.S. Senate, will play a key role in improving the organization.