- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2005

The United Nations is out of touch with most Americans, who think the beleaguered organization has abandoned its mission to keep peace and protect human rights around the world, says U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s chief of staff.

“In a very real way, we seem to have lost touch with the great middle in America, a middle which very much believes in the aspirational ideas of the U.N. … and who feel that we’ve drifted away from a commitment to human rights, a commitment to help the poor of the world,” Mark Malloch Brown said yesterday.

The United Nations is under fire for several scandals including the oil-for-food program, charges of sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeeping forces and the resignation of a top official accused of sexual harassment, which Mr. Malloch Brown addressed in an exclusive interview with “Fox News Sunday.”

The organization will propose changes in the coming weeks to begin repairing its reputation by revamping its “human rights machinery” to keep dictator nations off the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

Governments making up the current membership include Cuba, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Saudi Arabia. Libya is the outgoing chair of the committee.

The plan would “try and restore the credibility of this and have people on that commission who really are people of stature and reputation and record and come from countries of the same thing, with real human rights standing in the world,” Mr. Malloch Brown said.

Human rights groups say rights violators on the commission stick together as a bloc to prevent criticism of one another — a conclusion that has been endorsed by a panel of experts advising Mr. Annan on U.N. reform.

Any changes proposed by Mr. Annan would have to be approved by the U.N. General Assembly, comprising all 191 U.N. member nations. A package of U.N. reforms is expected to be debated at a U.N. world summit in New York in September.

Begun in 1946, the human rights commission examines nations’ adherence to treaties and conventions on issues ranging from illegal killings and arbitrary detention to women’s rights, child pornography and the right to food and health.

Members are elected by the 54-nation U.N. Economic and Social Council. But seats are allotted to the various U.N. regional groupings, and most candidates are put forward by these groupings without opposition, depriving the council as a whole of any say in the choices.

Regardless of any changes to repair the United Nations’ reputation, the organization still must deal with several investigations by Congress that are focused on billions of dollars missing from the oil-for-food program, and on whether Mr. Annan’s son, Kojo, is involved. Some lawmakers have called for Mr. Annan to resign.

Mr. Malloch Brown dismissed the congressional criticism and said “most of the world” stands by Mr. Annan and that his resignation would be tantamount to “inappropriate political assassination.”

The world does not “look at him as responsible for these problems. They look at it as a lack of support from governments in general, and that’s what we need to fix,” Mr. Malloch Brown said.

The U.N. official called reports of widespread sexual exploitation of children in the Congo by U.N. peacekeepers and officials, and sexual misconduct in Burundi, Haiti and Liberia “devastating.”

“It’s a terrible set of allegations — that peacekeepers sent to keep the peace in poor, weak countries with vulnerable people who have not been able to have their rights protected for years — that some of them behave in this way. I mean, it completely undercuts our mission, and we recognize that,” he said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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