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United Nations

What's the push for United Nations reform all about?
The need for significant reform of the United Nations bureaucracy has long been recognized by supporters and opponents of the world’s oldest and most influential international body. The current Secretary General, Kofi Annan, took immediate steps to improve the functioning of the United Nations and carry forward reforms instituted by his predecessors upon assuming office in 1997. Within the first six months, he significantly reduced bureaucratic inefficiency and improved coordination and accountability. He also has expanded the role and presence of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), like the United Church of Christ, in all aspects of the organization’s activities. Although Annan’s leadership has encouraged change, further reform is needed.

What types of reform are needed?

One of the key roles of the United Nations has been to enact dozens of agreements among and with nations on social, political, civil and cultural rights. Since the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the United Nations has been able to formally investigate hundreds of individual complaints of torture, arbitrary detention, disappearances and violence.

In early 2005, Annan proposed a reform plan that would replace the scandal-ridden U.N. Human Rights Commission with a newly codified U.N. Human Rights Council. The Human Rights Commission, officially charged with the role of helping to bring international pressure on governments to improve their human rights records, essentially sat by while genocide in Darfur shocked the world and the virtually ignored “oil-for-food” scandal in Iraq emerged.

Critics of the current Commission, including those in the Bush Administration, complain that the group’s credibility is greatly diminished because nations known to be human rights abusers are allowed to sit on the Commission and influence its agenda. The make-up of the proposed Human Rights Council is still under heated negotiation. Among the issues being discussed are more stringent regulations for membership (preferably democracies with strong human rights records).

Among other things, the Committee on the Peacebuilding Commission will need to draw up rules of procedure, prioritize its agenda, determine how often country-specific meetings should occur and whether they should be public or private, and decide on mechanisms for NGO interaction. The PBC is expected to examine two to three active country situations in its first year. (

One of the areas most in need of reform is the Security Council. This body is responsible for approving and overseeing all of the U.N.’s military-based operations. The Council is frequently hamstrung by its Cold-War based voting system in which five permanent member nations – the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China and France – can, by a single “no” vote, cause any resolution by the 15-member Council to fail. The other ten members of the council rotate among the other members of the United Nations. Although there have been many proposals for reform of membership and voting rules, the U.S. policy on U.N. reform has sadly become increasingly inflexible, insisting that all reform meet U.S. approval or risk withdrawal of financial and political support.

What are the most recent developments?

Human Rights Council:

In a historic vote in March 2006, an overwhelmingly General Assembly majority adopted the new Human Rights Council.

After five months of negotiations, regrettably, consensus could not be forged on the salient issue of the protection of human rights. However, despite US rejection, a massive General Assembly majority adopted the draft resolution on the Human Rights Council. The new body will replace the Human Rights Commission, discredited for its failure to respond to evident human rights violations and to limited credibility due to the problems of membership characterized as habitual human rights abusers.

The new Human Rights Council offers substantive improvements over the Human Rights Commission. U.S public assertion of an active cooperation with the new body, despite its pre-vote opposition, lends hope to an effective tool in the protection of human rights. In line with this message, the U.S is reportedly preparing its candidacy for the first election of members to the new body. If correct, controversy may irrupt as other countries will closely scrutinize its human rights credentials in the run up to the elections, scheduled for June.

Peacebuilding Commission:
While some agreements have been reached regarding the new Peacebuilding Commission, the full 31 members of the Organizational Committee have yet to be selected. Decisions within the top troop contributing countries (5), top financial contributing countries (5), ECOSOC (7) and GA (7) still need to be finalized. Currently the first organizational meeting of the Peacebuilding Commission is expected to be in the first week of April. (

How is the U.S. involved?
The United States has much at stake concerning U.N. governance and reform. The United States pays 22 percent of the regular budget and roughly one-quarter of humanitarian and peacekeeping costs. However, it also remains one of the largest beneficiaries of the United Nations. Not only does the United States have a shared interest in seeing the world become a more stable, humane place to live; the United Nations also utilizes U.S.-based contractors and other institutions throughout its work. Given the crucial role that the United Nations plays in international peacekeeping and humanitarian work, seeking to strengthen the United Nations through reform should be a central concern for Congress and the Administration.

How is the UCC involved?
The UCC General Synod calls upon lawmakers to increase U.S. contributions and commitment to U.N. projects, particularly HIV/AIDS funding and the Millennium Development Fund, as well as encourage U.N. reform in a spirit of partnership with other members of the body.

How can I be involved?
• Congregations can engage in further education and study of what is being done to reform all aspects of U.N. operations by visiting the United Nations web site
• JPANet advocates will be called on to ensure that in pressing for U.N. reforms the United States does not overplay its hand and exempt its own human rights violations from the watchful eye of the new Council.