Fri, Sep 16, 2005 - Page 9 News List

Lumbering UN reforms 'a good start'

Far from showing the world's nations united, negotiations to change the UN resulted in most countries and blocs of nations dragging up something to object to



A year-long, ambitious effort to overhaul the UN for the 21st century was cut down to size in last-minute negotiations that rescued the blueprint in time for this week's World Summit.

Coming shortly after a damning inquiry into the former UN oil-for-food program for Iraq, the final document presented on Tuesday offered few bold proposals for polishing the world body's image quickly.

Disputed themes such as more credible policing of human rights, improving oversight and accountability at the world body, strong pledges on environmental protection or fighting the threat of nuclear terrorism were watered down in the text.

Sixty years after the UN was founded at the end of World War II, the aims included adding new members to the Security Council to reflect changed world realities, and shifting power from the one-country, one-vote General Assembly to the UN secretary-general to help fight waste and corruption.

Leaders from more than 170 countries have a much more modest document on the table for their three-day summit which started on Wednesday.

But the US, which has spearheaded the drive for change, called the 35-page text a good start.

"This is not the end of the reform effort," said US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns. "It really is the beginning of a permanent reform effort that must be underway at the United Nations."

"We want the UN to be effective around the world but it has to be more efficient," he told reporters, adding that he hopes the deal would reduce pressure in the US Congress to withhold some UN dues.

A broad range of countries backed setting up a new Human Rights Council as the new UN human rights body, but detailed provisions were blocked by a small number of countries countries that Burns indicated had poor human rights records themselves, though he named no names.

The council is meant to replace the UN Human Rights Commission, widely viewed as discredited because countries with dismal human rights records can sit on it. But leaders are leaving the decision on the overhaul to the General Assembly.

Meanwhile, critics faulted the US for the lack of stronger commitments on fighting hunger and poverty in many parts of the world. Steps meant to tighten the way the UN is run and handles its money were left up to the General Assembly to decide.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has faced strong US pressure to push ahead with reforms, showed his frustration about a group of about 30 key countries that wrapped up the deal in a crush of late-night sessions over the past two weeks.

"There were spoilers in the group, let's be quite clear about it," he told reporters. "There were governments that were not willing to make concessions."

He did not name any, but pressure groups following the talks have blamed Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, Venezuela and the US, among others, for blocking various points during the discussions.

Nicola Reindorp, spokeswoman for the Oxfam aid group, said negotiators seemed stuck "on the lowest common denominator."

Far from showing nations united, the negotiations showed that every country or bloc of nations found something to object to. Only Monday, nearly every page in the draft document had bracketed paragraphs and highlighted sentences, indicating disagreements.

The text represents a year's worth of work to reaffirm the UN's principles and spell out changes of such arrangements as its outdated preference for World War II's winners and losers. The US, China, Russia, France and Britain have retained vetoes in the all-important Security Council.

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