Washington, June 18: The House disregarded strong White House objections and voted yesterday to withhold up to half of the country’s dues from the UN if the world body does not cut its bureaucracy, redirect its budget and tighten its accountability.
The bill ' one of the most extensive and specific congressional edicts to the UN ' requires the creation of whistle-blower protections, an independent oversight board with broad investigative authority and an ethics office to thwart possible conflicts of interest.
It requires reductions in the amount spent on conferences and public information, dictates the restructuring of the budget, and insists on tightened standards for determining membership on UN human rights bodies. The measure calls for the lifting of diplomatic immunity for UN officials charged with serious criminal offences.
“Yes, this is radical surgery,” said House International Relations Committee chairman Henry J. Hyde, the bill’s chief sponsor. “Sometimes that’s the only way to save the patient.”
The 221 to 184 vote marks the second time this week that the Republican-controlled House has rebuffed the Bush administration on a sensitive issue. On Wednesday, the House voted to curtail the FBI’s ability to seize library and bookstore records for terrorism investigations under the USA Patriot Act, despite the President’s veto threat.
The White House and the state department issued a sharp warning against the UN bill as debate began on Thursday.
The administration statement, although not including a veto threat, said the bill “could detract from and undermine our efforts” to change the UN and would “impermissibly infringe on the President’s authority under the constitution to conduct the nation’s foreign affairs.”
Nevertheless, the bill passed by a wider margin than the sponsors had expected. Its backers said that the UN’s unpopularity in the country, combined with the investigations on how billions of dollars were spent on the organisation’s oil-for-food humanitarian programme for Iraq, has provided the most favourable conditions in years for reining in an organisation they have always distrusted.
The bill’s success marked a revival of the wrangling between Congress and the UN in the 1990s. Congressional Republicans held up more than $1 billion in US funding for the UN, and UN diplomats’ parking tickets fuelled the dispute.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is working with the Bush administration on a companion bill and plans to begin hearings next month, aides said.
At the UN, a statement from the office of secretary- general Kofi Annan warned that the House bill could “jeopardise” his own effort to streamline the UN bureaucracy, and it said he “believes that US engagement and leadership in this process is very important but does not feel that withholding dues is a productive route to achieving reform.”