A senior United Nations official has reassured members of the U.S. Congress on plans to reform the world body. There was sharp questioning Thursday of Mark Malloch Brown, chief of staff to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, by lawmakers upset over everything from politics in the U.N. Security Council, and the Human Rights Commission, to scandals over the former Oil for Food Program, and sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers.
Mr. Brown's testimony to the House International Relations Committee was a relatively rare appearance by someone of his rank, a fact that in itself causes dismay among the lawmakers who criticize, but also want to help and hear from officials at the United Nations.
Many questions focused on corruption in the U.N. Oil for Food Program, which is being investigated by congressional committees and is the subject of an independent probe.
Mr. Brown said the scandal exposed a range of U.N. management failings he says Secretary General Annan has recognized and is committed to tackling before his term expires:
"The system of management oversight has demonstrated fundamental weaknesses, that we do not have adequate audit arrangements and that they need to be strengthened, that the financial disclosure rules for senior officials are not sufficient, that we do not have as yet adequate whistle-blowing arrangements to ensure that any staff member who volunteers information about misdoings in the organization will be protected from unfair recriminations," said Mr. Brown.
But new emerging details from Oil for Food investigations have added to the skepticism many lawmakers have and considerable anger on the part of many.
Republican Congressman Dan Burton accused the United Nations of failing to cooperate with congressional investigations on Oil for Food.
"We have had absolutely no cooperation from the United Nations in getting to the bottom of this, and yet we provide almost 25 percent of the funding for the U.N. And every time we have a big problem with the U.N., it's just kind of swept under the rug, and people say don't worry about that, just give us more money," said Mr. Burton.
Democratic Congressman William Delahunt focuses on what he sees as deep-seated problems in the U.N. Security Council.
"Almost 75 percent of the illicit, illegal revenue that went to Saddam Hussein to support his regime, was as a result of the Security Council not insisting on the enforcement of its own mandate," said Mr. Delahut.
Among key issues involving U.N. reform, to be considered by member states in coming months, is the question of the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
Lawmakers are livid that nations identified as human rights violators can sit on, or even chair the commission.
Congressman Jeff Flake suggests it may be necessary for Congress to link funding with reform
"After eight years, there has been really no change on the human rights side, and I just doubt [that] without some kind of financial leverage, some kind of tying funds to reform, if we are really going to get it," said Mr. Flake.
Mr. Brown's appearance came against the backdrop of calls by some lawmakers for the resignation of Kofi Annan, as well as legislative threats to withhold funding from the United Nations until reforms are implemented.
Although a sharp critic of the U.N. on human rights and other grounds, Democrat Tom Lantos says both would be a mistake.
"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," he noted.
In his testimony, Mr. Brown singled out the situation in Sudan's western Darfur province, and what he calls a lack of sufficient response by U.N., and Security Council members, as perhaps the most crucial test of U.N. management reform efforts.
"All the talk we have had this morning of U.N. reform will ultimately amount to nothing if Darfur happens on our watch. Because this for me is the real litmus test of effective U.N. reform, that Darfur doesn't happen in terms of deteriorating into a possible new round of massive human rights violations," added Mr. Brown.
Mr. Brown says strong, credible, pressure is required of the Sudanese government, as well as rebels in Darfur, along with action by the international community to support and expand African Union peacekeepers and provide humanitarian aid.