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Special Commission Urges Broad UN Reforms


A special task force created by Congress is recommending wide-ranging reforms at the United Nations. The 14-member commission says urgent changes are needed in U.N. internal management and other areas. The changes are recommended in a report released a day before the U.S. House of Representatives considers legislation proposing to link U.S. contributions to the United Nations to reform.

Kofi Annan
The report by the commission, and legislation the House is expected to vote on Thursday, are likely to increase pressure on U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has issued his own plan for reform.

The task force says a new chief operating officer should run day-to-day U.N. operations, while the secretary-general should be able to remove senior officials.

It urges creation of an independent oversight board to audit U.N. operations with an aim to prevent another scandal like the one involving the Iraq oil-for-food program.

Former Senator George Mitchell, who co-chaired the commission, says the United Nations and many of its agencies lack management systems common in other public and private institutions, and lists other key points in the report.

"…Effective whistle-blower protection, and ethical and disclosure standards for top officials, and transparency. Sunset provisions for all programs and activities mandated by the General Assembly, and identification of operational programs that should be funded entirely by voluntary contributions," he noted.

The commission makes some strong statements about member states in the United Nations controlled by dictatorial regimes that violate human rights.

It proposes abolishing the U.N. Human Rights Commission and putting in its place a new council composed mostly of democracies dedicated to monitoring, promoting and enforcing human rights.

Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich co-chaired the commission with Mr. Mitchell.

"The current human rights commission is destructive by its very nature," said Mr. Gingrich. "It has, in effect, been taken over by the very human rights violators the commission is designed to deal with."

The task force echoes calls by others for a zero tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers, an issue that has angered lawmakers in Congress and fueled U.N. reform legislation.

And it focuses on peacekeeping operations, in particular on the effectiveness of the United Nations regarding what the Bush administration and Congress have called genocide in Sudan's Darfur region.

Former Senator Mitchell says operational reforms are needed in how the U.N. deals with such situations, and urges these immediate steps recommended by the commission on Darfur.

"…Assembling a package of assistance for the African Union, authorization and establishment of a no-fly zone over Darfur, and a new Security Council resolution that provides a strong mandate backed up by the forces adequate to the mission," Mr. Mitchell said.

Mr. Mitchell says members of the bipartisan commission differed on some issues, including the question of expansion of the U.N. Security Council.

Release of the report came on the eve of what is expected to be a lengthy and emotional debate in the U.S. House of Representatives on legislation proposing to link U.S. contributions to seven specific areas of U.N. reform, with the potential for up to a 50 percent reduction in U.S. dues.

A preview of that debate was heard Wednesday during debate on a separate spending bill containing funds for international organizations.

Republican Congressman Frank Wolf had to fight off an attempt by fellow Republican J.D. Hayworth to further reduce U.S. contributions.

"There is no clearer message, there is no clearer way to impact public policy than to reduce the budget, to reduce the expenditures of the American taxpayer to this international budget," Congressman Hayworth said.

"These cuts would have a direct impact on critical organizations, such as NATO whose members are now providing training and support in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Congressman Wolf.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan Wednesday welcomed the task force report, saying it endorses many of the proposals contained in a U.N. reform plan to be considered by members later this year.

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