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Special Task Force Releases Recommendations on UN Reform

Six months ago, the U.S. Congress established a Task Force on the United States and the United Nations to suggest ways to reinvigorate the international body. Recently in Washington, the bi-partisan Task Force released its recommendations for sweeping reform.

The Task Force recommended that the U.S. government should call upon the UN to ensure that sovereign governments take responsibility for preventing genocide, mass killings and other human rights violations by creating a more powerful permanent Human Rights Commission whose members respect and protect human rights.

Former U.S. Senate Majority leader George Mitchell, co-chair of the Task Force, says the existing Commission lacks credibility because seven of the 53 countries on it have been labeled as the worlds worst abusers of human rights. "It is crystal clear that several of the nations with poor, terrible human rights records have become involved with the Human Rights Commission for the principal, if not the sole, purpose of protecting themselves against criticism of not advancing the cause of human rights. That's one of the reasons why the commission has fallen into such disrepute, it's being used for purposes that are directly antithetical for the purpose of the Commission itself and that's why it has to be abolished."

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan recommended earlier this year replacing the Commission with a Human Rights Council. The UN has been plagued by scandals, including oil-for-food, the program meant to help the Iraqi people during sanctions against Saddam Hussein's regime.

Former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, the other Task Force co-chair, says there is a growing sense that internal problems must be fixed. "The scandals, the inefficiencies, the failures are clear enough, and vivid enough and repetitive enough, that I think there is a much deeper move that something has to be fixed, or the UN will simply cease to be relevant at some point. So people who care the most about the UN have the greatest reason to want to reform it."

Mr. Gingrich said the 12 member bipartisan Task Force did not focus on specific individuals or scandals, such as allegations that Secretary General Annan steered oil-for-food business to a Geneva-based company employing his son, Kojo Annan.

A UN appointed investigation led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker is wrapping up its inquiry into the oil-for-food program, begun in 1996, six years after sanctions were imposed on Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait. The program permitted Iraq to sell oil to purchase food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies, but was abused by Saddam Hussein to raise funds illicitly.

The Task Force report also called for an end to genocide in Sudan, recommended that the United Nations adopt an American-style corporate management practice to address internal management reform and implement a zero tolerance policy of exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers.

Danielle Pletka, a Task Force member, says reform will take time. "We're not going to succeed in fixing an institution as broken as the UN in one month. It's going to be a years-long process, there should be a very strong beginning, a very strong commitment, but let's not pretend it all has to happen this September."

The UN General Assembly will review the Task Force recommendations during the 60th plenary session of the international body that starts September 13th.