Under Obama U.S. Expected to Reverse Course on United Nations

Submitted by SadInAmerica on Sun, 11/23/2008 - 8:08pm.

The United States' relationship with the United Nations faces a major change under the next administration. Those advocating greater U.S. engagement with the world body are lining up with advice for President-elect Barack Obama.  

On a range of issues, from membership of the much-criticized Human Rights Council to abortion-related funding, activists are anticipating, or urging, a significant change in direction.
Reproductive rights advocates expect that Obama to make among his first priorities next January a reinstatement of funding to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), which has lost some $240 million since 2002 because of its links with China's controversial population control programs.
The defunding was in line with a 1985 amendment to foreign appropriations legislation, which denies funding for any organization that supports or participates in forced abortion or involuntary sterilization programs.
Activists also expect Obama to end the "Mexico City Policy," which requires agencies receiving U.S. aid to certify that they are not using any funds to carry out or promote abortion.
Reinstating the Reagan-era policy, which critics call the Global Gag Rule, was one of Bush's first official acts after taking office in January 2002.
In a letter to Obama Wednesday, Center for Reproductive Rights president Nancy Northup urged him to restore UNFPA funding, repeal the Mexico City Policy, and "nominate representatives to the United Nations who are committed to living up to the U.S.'s prior commitments to promote and protect reproductive rights."
In a statement, Northup said the CRR "looks forward to an end to the Bush administration's relentless assault on women's reproductive health and rights."
The Democratic Party's 2008 platform includes pledges to "repeal the global gag rule and reinstate funding to the UNFPA."
Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, said Thursday no-one should be surprised if Obama struck down the Mexico City Policy "on his first day in office."
"˜Join the council'
Four months after Obama takes office, the U.N.'s Human Rights Council (HRC) will elect members for the year ahead. For the past three years - since the council was established - the U.S. has sat out.
Human Rights Watch is among those pressing for Obama to change that, arguing this week that the U.S. should seek a seat on the council "and work to make it more effective."
Like other U.N. bodies, membership is tied to regional groupings, a situation that critics say provides a built-in advantage for developing countries, many of which are not liberal democracies. Seven of the council's 47 seats are earmarked for the Western group, and three of those seats - currently held by Canada, Germany and Switzerland - will come up for election next May.
The U.S. was one of only four countries to vote against the resolution that set up the council in March 2006, arguing that it did not go far enough to ensure it would not replicate its discredited predecessor, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.
The following month, the U.S. announced it would not run in the inaugural election, but would "likely" do so in 2007.
But during its first year, the HRC drew fire for a disproportionate focus on Israel, and the U.S. chose to stay out of the running for the second consecutive year.
The council's second year, say critics, was even worse. Apart from the presence of rights violators among its members, more than 64 percent of all council resolutions that censured specific countries during 2007-8, targeted Israel.
The HRC that year also ended the mandates of special investigators who were monitoring Cuba and Belarus - countries the State Department called "two of the world's most active perpetrators of serious human rights violations."
And the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which currently controls
one-third of the council's seats, started wielding its clout, using the HRC to further its controversial campaign to outlaw the "defamation" of Islam
The U.S. last April decided for a third time not to seek election (States that are not members do participate at the council's Geneva sessions as observers, and the U.S. plays an active role.)
In his final speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September, Bush called for "an immediate review of the Human Rights Council, which has routinely protected violators of human rights." Under the resolution that established the council, a review is required within five years, or by 2011.
Legislation passed by Congress last year requires the U.S. to withhold a portion of its 2008 funding for the U.N., equivalent to the U.S. share of the HRC budget.
Pending foreign operations appropriation legislation for 2009 will again withhold funding for the council. The prohibition will not apply, however, if the U.S. joins the body.
Julie Mertus, co-director of the Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs Program at American University in Washington, D.C., in a "letter" to Obama this week acknowledged the council was "deeply flawed" but said "the United States has the responsibility to work with those who are trying to get it right."
She also accused the Bush administration of having "pulled out of the running for a seat on the body because it feared being subjected to review." The council
reviews all U.N. states, but its own members first; the U.S. review is scheduled for late 2010.
'Join the court'
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is another body that Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others want the Obama administration to join.
Although legally independent of the U.N., the tribunal reports annually to the world body and the U.N. Security Council may refer cases to the court.
The ICC was set up in 2003 to deal with cases of genocide, crimes against humanity and other violations. Washington opposed the initiative, concerned that it would be used to bring politically-motivated cases against Americans - especially U.S. troops abroad.
President Clinton signed the ICC's 1998 founding document just weeks before the Bush began his first term but did not seek Senate ratification, and recommended that his successor also not do so until concerns had been satisfied. In 2002, Bush withdrew the signature.
The ICC barely featured in the 2008 presidential campaign, but in response to questions in a 2007 candidate questionnaire conducted by a group that advocates U.S. international engagement, Obama sounded a cautious note.
He said ICC actions like those seeking to hold accountable the perpetrators of the genocide in Darfur deserved U.S. support and cooperation
"Yet the court is still young, many questions remain unanswered about the ultimate scope of its activities, and it is premature to commit the U.S. to any course of action at this time."
Obama said he would "consult thoroughly with our military commanders and also examine the track record of the court before reaching a decision on whether the U.S. should become a state party to the ICC."
Other international treaties Obama will be encouraged to support include the Convention on the Rights of the Child (signed in 1995 but not ratified due to sovereignty and other concerns); the Convention on All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (which the U.S. Senate has refused to ratify since President Carter signed it in 1980); the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (signed by Clinton in 1996, rejected by the Senate in 1999); and the Kyoto Protocol on climate change (signed by Clinton in 1998 but never ratified; Bush withdrew in 2001).
The Democratic Party platform for 2008 dealt very briefly with the issue of the U.N., saying that it was "indispensable but requires far-reaching reform" and calling the HRC "biased and ineffective."
"Yet none of these problems will be solved unless America rededicates itself to the organization and its mission," it said.

Patrick Goodenough - November 7, 2008 - source CNSNews

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Submitted by SadInAmerica on Sun, 11/23/2008 - 8:08pm.