February 01, 2011

House Committee Examines U.N. Funding Issues

Witnesses appearing before a Jan. 25 House Committee on Foreign Affairs briefing to examine urgent problems at the United Nations overwhelmingly argued in favor of U.S action to push for sweeping reforms of the international organization. 

Republican and Democratic members of the committee concurred that some level of reform at the U.N. is necessary, but disagreed on the appropriate approach. In her opening statement, Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) stated she will be reintroducing legislation similar to that which she sponsored in the last Congress, H.R. 557, which would, among other things, make U.S. payment of most of its annual U.N. dues voluntary and conditioned on reforms. 

The ABA has consistently acknowledged that certain reforms at the U.N. are needed, but has opposed the conditioning of U.S. contributions on reform. In previous correspondence to Congress and the State Department, the ABA has reiterated that “payment of assessed contributions to the United Nations is a legal obligation owed by all member states under Article 17 of the UN Charter” and that it would be “inconsistent with that legal obligation to condition payment of the U.S. assessments on either reform or reorganization at the United Nations.”

According to the ABA, failure on behalf of the United States to pay its financial obligations “damages U.S. political creditability and marginalizes U.S. influence on the very reforms it seeks to implement at the U.N.”

One of the ABA’s primary goals is to advance the rule of law worldwide, and in its view, inadequate funding for the U.N. will undermine democratization programs and peacekeeping efforts it views as necessary to the promotion of the rule of law internationally.

The Jan. 25 briefing included testimony from Peter Yeo, vice president for public policy and public affairs at the United Nations Foundation. He echoed the ABA’s sentiment by stating that “the UN serves a purpose to advance U.S. interests,” and “reform and progress will not happen unless the United States is at the table” paying its dues and playing an active role in the organization.

Claudia Rosett, from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, emphasized pushing for enhanced financial disclosure, transparency and accountability. Rosett also added that Congress must hold more oversight hearings to track the progress of reform.

The ABA will oppose any future legislation to restrict the United States’ legally obliged contributions to the U.N.  The legislation is likely to be introduced in the very near future, along with other efforts to cut foreign-aid programs as the Republicans seek to push through an initiative to cut overall government spending.

In related action, the House failed Feb. 9 to pass H.R. 519, a bill introduced by Ros-Lehtinen to retrieve $179 million in overpayments to the U.N. Tax Equalization Fund.

The Obama administration has proposed using the overpayments to offset future dues.

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