US to spearhead UN reform

2012-01-21 08:30

New York - The United States said on Friday it would spearhead a campaign to promote competitive elections for the UN Human Rights Council to keep rights violators like Cuba from winning seats as part of a new effort to reform the United Nations.

Joseph Torsella, the US ambassador for UN management and reform, said members of the organisation's top human rights body should be held to the same standard it promotes around the world.

"Abusers of international law or norms should not be the public face of the UN" he said.

The proposed reforms come as the US presidential campaign heats up.

Many of the UN's operations, its resolutions criticising Israel, and the membership of the Human Rights Council have come under attack from some Republicans, especially Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House Foreign Relations Commission.

Currently, elections to the Human Rights Council and many other UN bodies are controlled by regional groups that often put forward uncontested slates.

In 2010, seven countries accused of human rights violations, including Libya, Angola and Malaysia, won seats on the Human Rights Council in uncontested elections. In 2011, Syria was a candidate for an uncontested Asian seat, but it withdrew after the U.S. and the European Union lobbied UN members against voting "yes" for a country that was cracking down on civilian protesters.

In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, sent to UN correspondents, Torsella said the US also plans to take action against countries that violate international law elsewhere in the UN system.

"If a member state is under Security Council sanction for weapons proliferation or massive human rights abuses, it should be barred, plain and simple, from leadership roles like chairmanships in UN bodies," he said.

Torsella said the size and scope of the UN has grown dramatically since the world body was established in 1945, but that the UN "is still, in too many ways, stuck around 1950".

While the UN's regular two-year operating budget for 2010-2011 ended at $5.41bn, he said, when all the agencies in UN system are included it is now a $36bn enterprise - larger than the individual GDPs of half its 193 member states.

  • Pierre - 2012-01-21 09:19

    I am not deliberately trying to be anti-US, as I actually admired what the US has done in the second part of the 20th century; their accomplishments resulted in the US being a moral compass for the world during that time. However reading this article about preventing “abusers of international law and norms” stuck a bit in my throat. The US invasion of Iraq was one of the recent big violations of international law and norms, going into war without the UN’s approval. Also on torture, the US needs to have a hard look at itself. Not just did they engage in torture, but also worked with countries to torture on their behalf. Recent reports from Libya shows just that, but there were similar reports from Egypt, Yemen and former East European EU countries to name a few. These are not isolated incidents. The civilian death toll in Iraq is quite significant, completely overshadowing the recent death toll in Syria for example. (A conservative report puts civilian deaths in Iraq at 109 000, dwarfing the reported 5000 to 6000 deaths in Syria’s recent unrest.) Using a 1970’s resolution on “preventing civilian deaths” to overthrow a government the West did not like in Libya, does not sit well either.

      Anthony - 2012-01-21 10:49

      @Pierre, I largely agree with your sentiments re American foreign policy, especially when it comes to Iraq. I also have reservations that the USA, wants to stand on the foreground of Human Rights!! But to suggest that the USA was the one who got rid of these gaddafi thugs, you do a great disservice to the Lybian people. Also to compare these brave Syrians, who are trying to get rid of 40 years of terror by these assad criminals, with other civilian deaths, will not sit well with them.

      Pierre - 2012-01-21 12:24

      @ Anthony: I agree, you have a point and I am not taking anything away from the protesters in Syria and the Libyan rebels. They showed great courage you right. My reference to Syria was to show the big difference in civilian casualties compared to US forces in Iraq. There is made much of Syria, but the US caused so much more deaths, while they accuse others that have done a lot less. Other related points would be selective application of human rights and lack of impartiality by the UN; The Egyptian monarchy got toppled, under international pressure; Libyan armed rebels got EU air cover that swung that war in favour of the rebels. At the same time protestors in Saudi-Arabia and Bahrain got seriously suppressed, while nobody intervened. Then I am not sure if things got better. It seems the killing and torture increases in Iraq, Egypt and Libya after the takeovers. It is replacing a bad government by a worse one. But I realise there are other ways of looking at these.

      Mthuthuzeli - 2012-01-21 13:52

      Taking into account that Obama's administration have recently signed a $30bn arms deal with Saudi Arabia, are still shipping arms to Bahrain, and control forces that are engaging in their own campaign of mass killing and torture in Afghanistan and Pakistan, why should anyone care or take seriously what they have to say about greater human rights in the world? Maybe the US would be in better shape if it stopped making sanctimonious hypocritical statements about human rights, stopped starting wars all over the globe, and minded its own business. Is it just me, or is the duplicity, lying and hypocrisy of contemporary western politicians somehow more insulting to anyone with half a brain, and more shameless, than it used to be?

      Anthony - 2012-01-21 14:00

      @Pierre, Don't forget, that in Egypt and in Lybia, and especially the latter, everything , even remotely associated to democracy, like poltical parties, unions, the judiciary, was destroyed by these thugs. And the security forces, like the army and the police, were only there to protect the evil regimes. It is going top take one or two decades, to built up a democracy, from scratch. What concerns the happenings in the Middle East, UN SG Ban Ki-moon, put it into such easy and clear words; "The old way, the old order, is crumbling," Ban said. "One-man rule and the perpetuation of family dynasties, monopolies of wealth and power, the silencing of the media, the deprivation of fundamental freedoms that are the birthright of every man, woman and child on this planet - to all of this, the people say: Enough!"

  • Graziella - 2012-01-21 13:10

    "Abusers of international law or norms should not be the public face of the UN" he said. aching sides! I don't thing there is a need to list the "countries that violate human rights on a massive scale" that are darlings of the US and dwarf those like Cuba listed on a scale of order of magnitude. The whole notion that there exists an international community that has the interests of global human rights at its heart is naive at best and cynical rhetoric at worst.

      Anthony - 2012-01-21 14:35

      @Graziella, Your first part of your comment, sure, you are so right. But than in your last part, you make politics sound soo easy and so simplified. It is soo hard, for ones, that are soo anti Western, to accept the following; If in any Western European country, a TV documentary is shown, with for instance the hunger and suffering of Africans in Somalia, that same evening a few million Euro is donated to buy food and medicines for these starving people. ( I believe that the summit the AU had promised in March last year, to see ways to help in this crisis, still has to be held.......................!!!!!!!!!!! ) But what buggs the ones who are anti Western, is that these same people in Europe, that donate this money, Also demand from their governments, to interfere, military if necessarily, when a criminal thug like gaddafi , shouts, yells and screams, that he is going to KILL his oposition!!!!!!!!!!!! And what must totally "ache the sides" of the ones who are anti Westerners, is the following; That the USA, with in many cases, its disastrous foreign policies, is the biggest donor in the whole world, of aid to Africa. I don't mean development aid, but emergency aid, to help starving Africans and with this and the aid for aids and malaria sufferers, has saved the lives off MILLIONS OF AFRICANS. We here in Africa, can learn a lot from the Americans and Western Europeans, of what it means, to care for your fellow human beings!!!!!!

      Mthuthuzeli - 2012-01-21 15:53

      Graziella is right. There's a distinction to be made between western governments and its citizens, and a lot of the anti western rhetoric is directed at the governments and their corporate friends. Human rights violations are more often than not used as excuses to disastrously invade countries like Afghanistan and Iraq or to threaten the democratic processes of countries in Latin America. This is not to say that human rights discourses are inherently bad, just that they are asymmetrically used by powerful global elites like America and Britain to justify wholly illegitimate interventions.

      Anthony - 2012-01-21 16:16

      @Mthutuzeli, Why make a distinction between Western governments and its citizens. The citizens put these governments in power!!!!!

      Mthuthuzeli - 2012-01-21 18:45

      If you thought that the F-UK-USA governments were representatives of their citizens, you were sadly deluded. These three governments represent the corporate elite. Go to any international site to experience the disdain with which people from these countries view their governments.

      Anthony - 2012-01-21 20:07

      @Mthuthuzeli, That you seem anti Western, is fine, but you must not talk such rubbish. I actually think the Americans "overdo" their elections, but they want as much public involvement as possible to choose their new leaders. Maybe to learn a bit more about the democratic process in the USA, although a bit boring, watch some of their election process over the next.....eleven months!!!!!! And "the governments represent the corporate elite" !!!!!! Who do you reckon does Obama represent ????? Coca Cola or the Ford Motor Company ???

      Pierre - 2012-01-22 05:29

      @ Anthony: I think you are complicating the argument unnecessarily. I also agree with Graziella. The bigger violators on human rights are the ones that do the most finger pointing as of late; it is as simple as that. One cannot just bring single party states and monarchies to task, while allowing democracies to kill and torture indiscriminately. Syria and Libya has/had oppressive governments, but the actions of the US just in Iraq overshadow them. Being a democracy does not allow a country to be even more oppressive than a monarchy.

      Anthony - 2012-01-22 06:09

      @Pierre, Firstly,you and me, won't have much differences, when it comes to Iraq. Secondly, I am glad to note, that we also agree , that both Libya and Syrya had/has oppressive regimes. But, I believe, to bring Iraq into these discussions, one complicates the understanding of what is really happening in North Africa and the ME. And to critizise the role the US plays in the UN, its fine, but than do come with some alternatives. We all know the UN is an enormous complicated organisation, but any organisation needs its leaders. The point I was trying to make, is that the great irony is, that with all it's crazy and disastrous foreign policies and interventions, the US, ALSO does an incredible amount of good in the world, and, sorry to say, more good than any other country in the world!!!!!!!!! ps And to Graziella, I would like to say; ,sorry for being rude to you at times, and although I doubt we will ever agree on much, it's not ok.

      Mthuthuzeli - 2012-01-22 07:59

      US Presidents doesn't really have any power, lobbies and big business sets the agenda. The US Congress is a wholly-owned subsidiary of corporations, symbolic of the revolving door that propels so many U.S. government decision makers into lucrative corporate positions. Political scientists understand that US electoral outcomes are determined by powerful monied interests that finance the political campaigns and that the bills Congress passes and the President signs are written by these interest groups to serve their narrow interests. Such conclusions are dismissed as cynicism and do not alter the mindset of simpletons.

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