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U.S. Fury May Cut U.N. Funds

The ejection of the United States from the U.N. Human Rights Commission has infuriated lawmakers, and some are calling for withholding $650 million in payments to the United Nations.

"This decision is ludicrous," House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said Friday. "What they've done is thrown out the world's oldest democracy and put a country with the world's worst human rights record in its place, Sudan."

The United States failed to win re-election Thursday to the Geneva-based commission, which investigates rights abuses throughout the world.

Instead France, Austria and Sweden were chosen for the three seats allocated to Western countries among the 43 nations voting in the Economic and Social Council, the umbrella group for the commission.

The United States has been a member of the 53-nation commission since it was established in 1947.

At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer called the U.S. ouster from the panel "a disappointment," but said it "will not stop this president or this country from speaking out strongly on matters of human rights."

The panel itself has lost prestige, Fleischer indicated, as it "may not be perceived as the most powerful advocate of human rights in the world," given its inclusion of Sudan and Libya, two nations the panel has accused of human-rights violations, and exclusion of the United States.

The House is scheduled to vote next week on an $8.2 billion State Department authorization bill that contains $582 million in back dues for the United Nations — long a contentious issue in Congress. The bill also includes $67 million to rejoin UNESCO 17 years after the United States left over concerns about political polarization and mismanagement.

Now, those payments could be in jeopardy.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., said he and other lawmakers are "very seriously considering amendments that would reflect our dramatic loss of faith in the United Nations' structure. Withholding funds is the best way to reflect such a loss of faith."

Current Members
Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Congo, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Ecuador, France, Germany, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan,
Kenya, Libya, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sudan, Swziland, Sweden, Syria, Thailand, Togo, Uganda, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia


And there's "a real possibility" such amendments could succeed, said Rep. Benjamin Gilman, R-N.Y., former chairman of the House International Relations Committee.

"I think there's going to be a severe reaction in the Congress," Gilman said. In addition to cutting U.N. money, he said, "someone approached me last night on the floor (of the House) about withholding aid from countries that voted against us."

Former Secretary of State and U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright said the expulsion was a reflection of "short-term anger that has long-term effects, and I think it's very unfortunate. It's a serious blow, but it's as much a blow to the U.N., … which has sidelined itself on human rights issues."

To Kim Holmes of the conservative Heritage Foundation, the ouster was "an intentional slap at the United States." A number of countries, including allies, he said, "are unhappy with the Bush administration and looking for a way to signal their displeasure."

Allies have expressed distress over the Bush administration's rejection of the Kyoto global warming treaty and its decision to move ahead on a national missile defense system despite their opposition, among other things.

Joanna Weschler, the U.N. representative of Human Rights Watch, said Western and developing countries bore grudges against the United States.

"They should have seen it coming because there has been a growing resentment towards the U.S. and their votes on key human rights standards, including opposition to a treaty to abolish land mines and to the International Criminal Court and making AIDS drugs available to everyone," she told Reuters.

Other nations the United States has held up to the spotlight in the Geneva commission, such as China or Cuba, resented U.S. actions on the committee and "made their feelings well known in their speeches, " she said.

Just last month, the commission shelved a U.S. resolution on China, agreeing to Beijing's motion to take "no action" on the text.

The U.S. text denounced "severe restrictions on the rights of citizens to the freedoms of assembly, association, expression, conscience and religion, and to due legal process and a fair trial as well as at reports of harsh sentences for some seeking to exercise their rights."

Using this controversial procedural maneuver, China has avoided examination of its record every year since its troops killings of hundreds of protesters in Beijing in June 1989.

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