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Contra Marty Peretz

TNR's Marty Peretz has never been the most avid supporter of the United Nations, to say the least. Now, however, contemplating the international response to the crisis in Zimbabwe, he reaches perhaps a new low:
And let's face facts: the most aggressive response to the calamity of Mugabe's rule has been that of the United States. Which is to say, the response of George Bush. See the New York Times article headlined, "Zimbabwe Faces Wider Sanctions Under Bush Plan." The problem is that the U.S. is taking the plan to the Security Council where it will surely fail. Which raises the fundamental question about the United Nations: is it worth anything? My answer is "no."
Even without discussing what the UN can in fact do in Zimbabwe -- see, for example, The Economist's sober but cautiously optimistic take on that question -- Peretz's claim that the UN is worth nothing, based solely on insufficient action on one issue, is exceedingly myopic. Even if the UN were to roll out the red carpet for Mugabe in New York -- something that Secretary-General Ban, who has condemned Zimbabwe's election as "illegitimate," is far from doing -- that would not invalidate the myriad benefits the UN brings to the hundreds of millions of others in the scope of its work: people all over the world whom the UN and UN agencies feed and vaccinate from diseases, protect from violence, help out of poverty, and bring into democracies, just to name a few.
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No U.S. Funding for Reproductive Health…Again

Over at his blog, On the Ground, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is incensed that the Bush administration has, for the seventh consecutive year, decided to withhold any funding for the United Nations Population Fund. He's not alone, as voices on the Hill are already registering their outcry. Why would the U.S. object to helping fund an organization that provides reproductive health services for women across the world (not to mention assistance in development, human rights, and gender equality initiatives as well)? Kristof explains:

The reason given for withholding the U.S. funds is that the Population Fund (universally called UNFPA, after its old acronym) supports forced abortions in China. Even if that were true, it would be ridiculous to withhold funds for UNFPA activities against maternal mortality in Africa because of its work in China. But in any case, UNFPA has been a major force against compulsion of any kind in China, as the U.S. blue-ribbon committee that investigated the charges found. In the areas in China where UNFPA set up a model program, there is no compulsion and the abortion rate is lower than in the U.S.


It seems that the administration is assuming that, simply because China has a one-child policy -- and because yes, like everywhere else in the world, some women in China do get abortions -- that abortions there must be non-voluntary, and that the UNFPA, merely by operating in the country, is guilty by association. This logic is clearly flawed, its assertions are wholly unsubstantiated by the evidence, and, perhaps worst of all, it contradicts the findings of the U.S. government's own investigative panel. Moreover, as Kristof suggests, depriving UNFPA of support for any of its work -- even in places like Africa, where President Bush has trumpeted his development efforts, such as PEPFAR, as a staple of his legacy -- out of either political or ideological posturing makes for nonsensical policy. Cross-posted on On Day One. UPDATE: Tamara Kreinin, the Executive Director of the Women and Population program at the United Nations Foundation, issues a strong statement on UNFPA funding (read it below the fold). UPDATE II: As commenter Tyler LePard notes, the news only gets worse. Check out Craig Lasher's post over at RH Reality Check for more.

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Talk About Chutzpah

Flashback: It's January 2007, and Melanie Kirkpatrick pens an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal accusing the United Nations Development Program of funneling "upward of $100 million" to the coffers of North Korean leader Kim Jong Ill. The accusation stems from allegations made by the United States Representative for UN Management and Reform, Mark Wallace. The WSJ quickly dubbed this the "Cash for Kim" scandal. The echo chamber grows louder, claiming this is a new "Oil For Food" scandal. The UNDP suspends its operations in North Korea pending an investigation. Present Day: An internal UNDP investigation, an investigation by the United States Senate, and just last week an external audit lead by the former Prime Minister of Hungary (and including the former head of the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund) cleared the UNDP of wrongdoing. This later report was the most exhaustive--and the most damning toward those who have been trying to make this scandal stick. There was no scandal. It found the the UNDP followed normal diplomatic procedures in its financial dealings with North Korea. As The Atlantic's James Gibney pointed out, this was "The UN Scandal that Wasn't...More broadly, as the New York Times observed, "the dense 353-page report appeared to concur with what the [UNDP] had maintained all along, that the American allegations were baseless." But Kilpatrick--now with egg all over her face--refuses to acknowledge her mistake and move on. Rather, she takes to the op-ed page again today to claim that a report which exoneratesthe UNDP actually implicates it further! Ugh.
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Zimbabwe’s in the United Nations. We should cancel the United Nations.

In Slate on Tuesday, Anne Applebaum offered the bold proposition that Robert Mugabe's attendance at this week's emergency meeting of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization proves that the UN is useless. As she put it:
With an unerring sense of timing, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe arrived in Rome this weekend, thereby demonstrating the profound limitations of international diplomacy. Indeed, it's hard to think of any other single gesture that would so effectively reveal the ineffectiveness of international institutions in the conduct of both human rights and food-aid policy. Even someone standing atop the dome of St. Peter's, megaphone in hand, shouting, 'The U.N. is useless! The E.U. is useless!' couldn't have clarified the matter more plainly.
First things first, I think the millions of children around the world who didn't die of polio this year because they received a vaccination through the UN World Health Organization may dispute that. But I digress. Mugabe's attendance at the meeting of the Food and Agricultural Organization does not show that the UN is useless. It does, however, show that sovereignty is still a driving force of international relations--which means that sometimes heads of state we don't like are invited to forums in which more responsible leaders also participate. It's not like Mugabe has a veto over what can or cannot be discussed at the meeting. He's there. He's a gadfly. Get over it. But she can't. Instead, Applebaum uses Mugabe-in-Rome to bludgeon the UN as a whole. So should we scrap the UN-sponsored war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone because Mugabe attended a meeting? Should we pull the 4,000 (mostly Brazilian and Jordanian Peacekeepers) out of Haiti because Mugabe attended a meeting? Should we stop providing food, shelter, and educational services to the millions displaced in Darfur because Mugabe attended a meeting? Should we halt anti-malarial campaigns by the World Health Organization because Mugabe attended a meeting? To call the whole edifice of the United Nations "useless" because a tin-pot dictator attends a meeting or two is deeply irresponsible. Applebaum is a Pulitzer Prize winning author and regular columnist in one of the world's most prestigious publications. Her words and arguments matter. Yet she is dabbling in an argument of which the logical extension is to deny the millions of people food, shelter, medicine, and security--all because Mugabe attended a meeting.
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No Wrongdoing to “Escape” From

At the risk of beating a dead horse, in case you missed it yesterday, The New York Times has reported on an independent panel's finding that the UN Development Program was not involved in any financial mismanagement in North Korea. Bluntly,
American allegations that North Korea duped the United Nations Development Program by diverting aid money for its own needs are not supported by any evidence, according to a lengthy external review released Monday. There was no sign that millions of dollars were mismanaged, diverted elsewhere or unaccounted for, the report said, countering accusations made in early 2007 by the United States Mission to the United Nations. Although the report acknowledged that some information the panel had sought was unavailable, the review's conclusion was that the money had been "used for the purposes of the projects."
This conclusion is by now well-established, and has been corroborated by reports from multiple other major news outlets, so it is somewhat disturbing that Reuters chose a misleading phrase for its headline, describing the Nemeth report's findings as an "escape" from "major censure." Let's be clear here. UNDP did not "escape" accusations of wrongdoing, because there was no wrongdoing to escape from. The allegations have been found to be without any substance whatsoever by not one, not two, but three investigative panels -- a point of which The Wall Street Journal apparently needs reminding -- and emanate nearly entirely from a thoroughly-debunked source, one whom the latest report characterizes as an "evasive witness," about whose "credibility and trustworthiness" the panel expressed "serious reservations." This was the shaky foundation on which the accusations of UNDP wrongdoing were built, and, after a series of thorough investigations, this foundation seems to have quite thoroughly collapsed.
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Yet Another Death of a “Scandal”

What Mark earlier called the "scandal that never was" -- the U.S.'s accusation that the UN Development Program (UNDP) had illegally funneled millions of dollars in cash to the North Korean government -- can finally perhaps be put to bed. Already, a Senate investigative committee, as well as the UN's own auditing board, has exposed this charge as largely groundless, and now, the just-released report of an independent panel chaired by former Hungarian Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth, confirms the extent to which this issue has been blown out of promotion by scandalmongers and UN-bashers. The UNDP's operations with North Korea are difficult, but they are also vital to millions of North Koreans who benefit from the organization's services. Everywhere UNDP works, it must work with and under the rules of the host country's government. In North Korea's case, this entailed UNDP adopting sub-optimal policies on local staffing, the use of hard currency (as distinct from cash), and project oversight -- policies that had long been accepted by the U.S. government and are still being practiced by embassies and NGOs in the country. Nonetheless, when UNDP came under attack in March of 2007 for having operated under the policies that North Korea required, and recognizing the importance of ensuring that its funds were not being mismanaged, UNDP suspended its operations in North Korea. Some of the accusations then leveled against UNDP came from a former employee who later claimed that he was being punished for having "blown the whistle" on the organization's supposedly irregular policies. The new Nemeth report, however, clarifies how well-established UNDP's operating procedures were in North Korea among U.S., NGO, and UN agencies and finds no UNDP complicity in North Korea's attempts to avoid sanctions. It also casts serious doubts on the credibility of the purported "whistleblower" who broke these accusations. Meanwhile, and even though this particular individual's case did not prove to be substantiated, UNDP strengthened its whistleblower protection policy and beefed up accountability systems worldwide. As for whether or not UNDP should resume its programs helping the citizens of North Korea, that will be up to Member States to decide, when they discuss the Nemeth report later this month.
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The Trouble with Peacekeeper Accountability

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"Who will watch the peacekeepers?" asks a former UN internal investigator in a New York Times op-ed today. The issue at hand are allegations that a contingent of Pakistani peacekeepers in eastern DRC trafficked in arms for gold with a local militia. The allegations are serious, and at least one prominent human rights organization has taken issue with the way the United Nations has handled the situation. But the op-ed today drives at a deeper question: what to do about miscreant peacekeepers in general? Right now, there are over 100,000 peacekeepers in 19 missions around the world. The vast majority are putting their lives on the line every day to help bring peace to the most troubled places on earth. But by the laws of averages, a certain percentage is going to be bad apples. The challenge, therefore, is to reduce the percentage of bad apples through strengthening procedures that ensure individual criminal accountability. This is much easier said than done. One of the main hurdles is jurisdiction; where should Pakistani soldiers who commit crimes in DRC be held accountable? Principals of justice would demand that the crimes be tried locally, but most places where peacekeepers are deployed don't have functioning judiciaries.
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Lies and the Lying Liars

File this under dog bites man: conservative critics are falsely accusing Barak Obama of supporting a non-existent UN plan to impose a global tax on American citizens. Here's the story. A number of right wing blogs are suddenly re-circulating months old columns by anti-UN propogandists Phyllis Schlafly and Cliff Kincaid which excoriate Barak Obama for introducing the Global Poverty Act. Kincaid Calls it "Obama's Global Tax Plan" and Schlafly says its "Obama's Sovereignty Giveaway Plan." So which is it? Neither, of course. In December 2007, Obama sponsored the thoroughly bi-partisan Global Poverty Act, which does not impose a global tax on Americans. It would, however, "require the President to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to further the United States foreign policy objective of promoting the reduction of global poverty, the elimination of extreme global poverty, and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by one-half the proportion of people, between 1990 and 2015, who live on less than $1 per day." The UN-bashing horde quickly seized on the bill's reference to the Millennium Development Goals to advance one of their favorite canards: that the organization will impose a tax on American citizens. Says Schlafly,
"By adopting the Millennium Goals in 2000, the U.N. escalated its demands to impose international taxes. Specifically, the Millennium called for a "currency transfer tax," a "tax on the rental value of land and natural resources," a "royalty on worldwide fossil energy projection -- oil, natural gas, coal," "fees for the commercial use of the oceans, fees for airplane use of the skies, fees for use of the electromagnetic spectrum, fees on foreign exchange transactions, and a tax on the carbon content of fuels." to the UN to tax American citizens.
No, it doesn't. The Senate bill states specifically that by "Millennium Development Goals" it is referring to the goals set out in this document, a General Assembly Resolution adopted in September 2000. No where does the document say anything about a currency tax, royalties on fossil fuels, or airplane fees. No where. Search for yourself. She's just making this up to tarnish the United Nations and her domestic political rivals. Why bloggers are deciding to re-circulate this dreck right now, I have no clue. UPDATE: Via Kathy G, Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri is planning to award Phyllis Schlafly with an honorary doctorate. Oy.
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No, YOU’RE Indicted!

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What do you do if two of your countrymen -- including one high-ranking minister -- have been indicted for war crimes by the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court? Well, if you are the Sudanese Ambassador to the UN, you indict the Chief Prosecutor right back. In a gesture that cannot help but be compared to the childhood retort of "I know you are, but what am I?" Abdel-Mahmood Mohamad has called for Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the man leading the nearly yearlong crusade to bring some of the perpetrators of the Darfur genocide to justice, to "be tried in court," branding him "politically bankrupt" and "enemy number one of peace in Darfur."
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The absurd contention that Moreno-Ocampo is obstructing peace in Darfur naturally turns the problem exactly on its head. Mohamed, perhaps taking a page out of Joseph Kony's book, is appealing to the (misplaced) notion that, if the ICC prosecutions in Sudan were dropped, the Sudanese government would offer greater compliance. Mohamed's bluster is simply the latest -- and probably bluntest -- example of Sudan's hard-headed obstruction of the ICC's work in Darfur. Darfur is not Northern Uganda, where an actual peace accord will, it seems, finally be signed in the next couple of days. The ICC's work in Darfur, then, must now be used as a stick to enforce compliance -- as well as, of course, to ensure justice and accountability. With such outright defiance of the UN, Sudan's leaders cannot simply claim, at this stage in the conflict, that the pursuit of justice is in any way undermining their none-too-credible support for peace.