The House adopted a proposal Thursday to withhold a portion of the back dues owed the United Nations unless the United States membership in the U.N. Commission on Human Rights is reinstated.
The vote was 252-165 for a measure that would allow one payment of $582 million in back dues but hold back an additional $244 million owed until the country is back on the human rights panel.
"I think there's an injustice there that ought to be addressed," House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said of the ouster of the United States from the panel that still counts as members Sudan, China and Libya, "some of the greatest perpetrators of human rights abuses in the world."
International Relations Committee chairman Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., called the ouster from the commission "a deliberate attempt to punish the United States for its insistence that we tell the truth about human rights abuses wherever they occur including in those countries represented on the commission, such as China and Cuba."
The House, debating the State Department authorization bill for 2002-2003, also voted to keep the United States out of the International Criminal Court.
The Bush administration favors paying the UN back dues. On Wednesday the White House warned that approval of the proposal "would be extremely damaging" to America's ability to cooperate in multilateral organizations.
Spokesman Ari Fleischer said that while the United States is disappointed over losing the commission seat, President Bush "feels strongly that this issue should not be linked to the payment of our arrears to the U.N. and other international organizations."
He noted there was a negotiated agreement involving key members of Congress for the payment of back dues to the United Nations. That agreement, Fleischer said, is a separate issue.
In a sign that the House was not completely opposed to all things United Nations, it voted 225-193 to support a return to UNESCO, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and pay it $65 million. The United States left UNESCO in 1984, angered by management problems and what was perceived to be an anti-American bent.
Several Democrats spoke in favor of President Bush's opposition to putting conditions on the $244 million final payment to the United Nations.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said the United Nations has "held up their end of the bargain" reached in 1999 under which the United States would pay its arrearages and the United Nations would reduce the U.S. proportion of dues and peacekeeping expenses.
"Because the U.N. has voted the U.S. off the Human Rights Commission, we are deciding that we can break our agreement, that we can break our contract," Maloney said. "This is wrong, and I think we would be ashamed if our children acted in this manner."
U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said the money has been pledged to countries with troops serving in U.N. peacekeeping missions.
"All $582 million are going irectly to troop contributors, to peacekeeping, so we have a lot of eager candidates awaiting that money and I think it would be a very negative reaction if it didn't arrive," Eckhard said.
The United States has been on the human rights commission for more than 50 years, using the Geneva-based forum to target perceived human rights violators, especially China and Cuba in recent years.
The commission voted the United States off last week but added Sudan, which is on the State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism. The addition of Sudan has reinforced the deep sense of disillusionment on Capitol Hill.
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