UNITED NATIONS (FinalCall.com)–The Fifth Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, at Final Call press time, was set to resume discussions on the reform measures of the world body that were presented by Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Mr. Annan addressed the General Assembly on Oct. 30 to explain his reform package that he submitted in September against a backdrop of growing criticism. Mr. Annan said the reform measures would make the world body more “effective and efficient.” Discussion of the report by UN members was derailed by the recent Security Council debate on weapons inspections in Iraq.
The Fifth Committee is the group responsible for budgetary issues in the General Assembly.
“Some of you have suggested that the proposals for improving our performance in the areas of human rights and public information implies a downgrading of the priority given to development,” Mr. Annan told the General Assembly.
He said the recommendations were made in response to specific requests made by the General Assembly. Two of the most controversial proposals deal with reducing the number and length of UN reports, and the planning and servicing of meetings.
“As we move ahead, I would want there to be an open process, with real dialogue between the Member States and the Secretariat, based on mutual trust,” Mr. Annan said.
General Assembly President Jan Karam of the Czech Republic hailed the new reforms as extremely useful. He also pledged that “with a little luck” the UN would have a workable, endorsed resolution before Christmas.
According to Fred Eckhard, spokesman for the secretary-general, Mr. Annan remains optimistic that his reform package will go through.
But the debate so far is all but positive. Diplomats in Geneva, the UN’s European headquarters, have charged that a stranglehold on information was being proposed in New York. According to observers, diplomats from France and Germany called on the European Union to be watchful of the reform process, adding that EU states fear the creation of a “super information center in New York.”
Mr. Annan proposed streamlining the UN’s 71 worldwide information centers, which could result in the consolidation of 13 western European centers into one regional center.
Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) say they fear that a change in information and meeting policies would be a “step back” in the protection of human rights.
“The proposed reforms could lessen states’ obligations to present reports on their human rights efforts,” charged Antoine Madelin of the International Federation of Human Rights.
Joanna Weschler, UN representative for Human Rights Watch, told the Fifth Committee that any budget constraints placed on the UN Commission on Human Rights would “weaken the UN human rights system.”
Criticism of Mr. Annan’s reforms have also come from the UN Staff Union, which represents more than 4,000 workers at the UN’s New York headquarters. Union President Rosemarie Waters told the Fifth Committee that if the UN is to become more relevant and its reform policies are to succeed, its staff must be one of its primary considerations.
“Accountability and responsibility are words that are repeatedly linked to the foundation of the current reform. But there are clear examples of the lack of both of these concepts in the actual implementation of policies,” Ms. Waters said.
Ms. Waters also submitted staff comments on the restructuring of the Department of General Assembly Affairs and Conference Services. “The staff representatives feel they did not have ample opportunity to submit their comments on these proposals prior to their issuance,” she added.
“It is United States foreign policy that drives UN reform,” charged Jim Paul of the New York-based NGO Global Policy Forum. He warns that real effectiveness is not the issue that fuels Mr. Annan’s reform proposals.
“Mr. Annan’s policies are strictly a political reaction to what President George W. Bush wants the UN to be,” Mr. Paul added.
Brett D. Schafer, a UN expert with the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, said the Bush administration must assess America’s interest at the UN, if it is to blunt international criticism of American foreign policy.
“Activists at the UN and their supporters in the United States proceed from the premise that any American policy that does not have the support of the international community is wrong.” Mr. Schafer said. “America should strive to replace the notion of international consensus as the grounding principle at the UN.”
He said that reform of the system that creates numerous discussions, documents, treaties and proposed actions is the order of the day. He concluded that the main reason for his conclusion was that UN target dates for accomplishing its goals are rarely, if ever, met.
“Critics need not be shy about pressing their case for radical reform of the UN. It is common sense that the UN’s performance be subject to a rigorous analysis,” Mr. Schafer added.