Tuesday, September 11, 2007

NEW YORK — Congress is poised to eliminate the 25 percent U.S. funding for the U.N. Human Rights Council, saying that the forum is dominated by human rights abusers and has become a forum to bash Israel.

The move against the council is part of a number of proposed cuts in U.S. funding for the world body now working their way through Capitol Hill.

Moreover, the latest effort appears to be bipartisan, unlike past budget battles that were driven largely by conservative Republicans.

“Absent additional reform efforts by the U.N., this issue is not going to go away,” said one congressional aide. “It’s going to bubble and surface and percolate for years.”

The Senate on Friday agreed to cut $3 million from its payment to the U.N. regular budget, the share that would normally be earmarked for the Geneva-based Human Rights Council. The House passed a similar measure this spring.

Leading Democratic Sens. John Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy, both of Massachusetts, and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin were among several longtime U.N. supporters to vote for the funding cut.

Because money is easily transferred between U.N. agencies, the cut is unlikely to have much effect on the Human Rights Council, which the Bush administration has twice declined to join.

Lawmakers this year have already sought to cut $20 million from the U.N. Development Program. That effort is led by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, and Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, both of whom are upset at U.N. persecution of an employee who exposed the agency’s payments of hard currency to North Korea.

The Senate last week approved an amendment sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, to halt all appropriations to the world body “until the secretary of state certifies that the United Nations [and subsidiaries] is fully and publicly transparent about all of its spending, including procurement purposes.”

That would amount to about $5.3 billion a year, including payments to the regular budget, peacekeeping and voluntary contributions to diverse agencies such as UNICEF and the World Health Organization.

The amendment, which passed in the Senate by 92-0 with all the 2008 presidential candidates abstaining, was drafted “to ensure that the U.S. contribution is not being lost to waste, fraud, abuse or corruption.”

It is part of the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act.

The Human Rights Council, which began its sixth session yesterday, has been something of an embarrassment to U.N. officials since its creation in June 2006.

With members such as China, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, its 47 members do not collectively improve on the character of the discredited U.N. human rights body it replaced.

Under rules created by the council, its members can dismiss independent rapporteurs, some of whom have decades of experience in religious issues, women’s rights, free press and other human rights issues.

The Human Rights Council is highly unlikely to censure any country by name, meaning that resolutions condemning individual governments that dominated debate in the now-defunct U.N. Human Rights Commission are unlikely to be repeated.

The council appears to remain focused on efforts to condemn Israel over its treatment of Palestinians, despite appeals by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and others to stop.

Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, predicted yesterday that the council would not condemn any country by name “except for Israel.”

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