- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 14, 2005

In his address to the United Nations yesterday, President Bush explained why genuine reform is necessary and why it is in the interests of free people everywhere to push the world body to live up to its ideals. If the United Nations is to succeed in important missions such as fighting disease and promoting human rights, the president noted, it “must be strong and efficient, free of corruption and accountable to the people it serves.”

The United Nations “must stand for integrity, and live by the high standards it sets for others. And meaningful instititional reforms must include measures to improve internal oversight, identify cost savings, and ensure that precious resources are used for their intended purpose,” Mr. Bush said. “And the process of reform begins with members taking our responsibilities seriously. When this great institution’s member states choose notorious abusers of human rights to sit on the U.N. Human Rights Commission, they discredit a noble effort and undermine the credibility of the whole organization. If member countries want the United Nations to be respected … and effective, they should begin by making sure it is worthy of respect.”

Unfortunately, the document approved Tuesday by the U.N. General Assembly takes only small steps in the direction of reform outlined by Mr. Bush. On the positive side, it would replace the Human Rights Commission, which in recent years has included serial violators of human rights, such as Sudan, Zimbabwe and Libya.

Thanks to the fine work of U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, Washington succeeded in ensuring that language urging countries to support flawed concepts like the International Criminal Court and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty were not included in the final document. Mr. Bolton also succeeded in softening language that would have required the United States to substantially increase its spending on foreign-aid programs that have dubious records.

But in other areas, the document disregards legitimate U.S. concerns and fails to address some of the most serious problems plaguing the United Nations. Negotiators did not include U.S.-backed language stengthening the secretary-general’s oversight of finances or language calling on states not to transfer weapons to terrorists. They also did not agree to bar rights violators from the new Human Rights Council, and U.S. officials admit it will be very difficult to win support in the General Assembly for creation of a council worthy of the name.

On terrorism, the United States and Arab governments reached a stalemate: Arab governments were unsuccessful in their attempts to exclude so-called “national liberation movements” that target civilians from being classified as terrorists. But Washington was unable to win a clear condemnation of the deliberate killing of civilians, according to Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns. Clearly, the United Nations has at best a long and difficult road as it moves from vision toward reality.

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