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Sen. Norm Coleman Gives U.N. Reform Bad Marks

Monday, 03 April 2006 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- Calling his review "one senator's perspective on United Nations reform," Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., issued the world body a report card that he said contained "two B's, a C, a couple of F's, and a couple of incompletes."

Speaking at the second Jesse Helms International Diplomacy Lecture at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, Coleman, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he strives to be the most optimistic he can - summing up the recent progress of U.N. reform as "not entirely good, but not as bad as it could be."

Whether in the Coleman analysis, the U.N.'s accountability in the wake of the oil-for-food scandal fits under one of the F grades or one of incompletes was not made clear, but the man who has famously called for U.N. Secretary General Koffi Annan's resignation said that last year's Independent Inquiry Committee report, the so-called "Volker Report" after its chairman Paul Volker, was the most "damning indictment of the U.N.'s performance in the 60 years of its history."

Coleman ticked through some of the highlights of the U.N.'s mismanagement of the program, which was designed to use Saddam Hussein's oil to buy food for his people as that then-dictatorship reeled under sanctions.

In the end, Coleman noted, some $690 million of waste, abuse and fraud was identified, further aggravated by Koffi Annan's chief of staff ordering the "destruction of more than three years worth of documents related to oil-for-food."

"In this country we call that ‘obstruction of justice,' and people go to jail for a long time for that," Coleman noted to the auditorium audience.

"The secretary general improperly shifted blame to member states and the 661 committees [Security Council Sanctions Committees]," Coleman lamented.

Coleman also lambasted Annan's repeated declaration that only one staff member was shown to have profited to the tune of $150,000.

That staff member, Benon Sevan, former director of the program, said Coleman, has yet to be brought to justice, having fled to a country without extradition where he remains today.

Coleman compared the secretary general's overall stance regarding the scandal to former FEMA Director Michael Brown's declarations during the recent Capitol Hill hearings on Hurricane Katrina.

Annan and Brown, Coleman said, both tacitly admitted that they were at the helm, but that things were "bound to fail under the way all was organized."

"The heavy lifting of reform requires, first and foremost, a need for full acceptance of what went wrong," Coleman charged. "The absence of leadership makes a difference."

"The highest levels of U.N. leadership still owe us a fuller accountability," he concluded.

As to reforms with the Human Rights Council, Coleman repeated a popular refrain that "Not all are equal to sit in judgment on human rights violations."

Coleman decried, "a major or opportunity missed," when this past March Ambassador John Bolton was unable to reopen negotiations on the reconfiguration of the Council. As it stands now, entry to the Council is by a majority vote taken in a secret ballot – a "low bar," according to the lawmaker.

Furthermore, he noted, the continued use of regional groupings have an "overall negative effect; the balance shifts from the West to areas where democracies are more scarce."

He also noted the sorry fact that Israel continues to be denied to even participate in the Human Rights Council.

"It represents a setback, but we must continue to engage," Coleman said.

Coleman lauded some progress on transparency, pointing to the strong whistleblower element, more stringent financial disclosure requirements, and an ethics office that has now been funded.

Back to the bad marks, Coleman expressed disappointment in works-in-progress - pointing to a lagging start on a zero tolerance on sex abuse initiative, and a still latent review of "the entire U.N. procurement system."

Unfortunately, he concluded in his opinion, there remained a culture at the U.N. that stands for the proposition that "unless you can prove something is wrong, we assume all is OK."

He also chided the lack of progress in clearing what he styled as the "bureaucratic deadwood accumulating" at the world body.

"We've got to make way for the new best-and-brightest," Coleman said. "The U.N needs to sharpen its saw, perhaps with a one-time buyout of dull teeth."

Pointing to a plethora of wasteful duplicate programs, Coleman said he was anxious for a top-to-bottom fresh mandate review. "If we were starting the U.N. today, is this the way we would want it to look?"

The lawmaker also hoped for progress in the role of voluntary funding rather than mandatory.

In response to a question from the audience about a woman candidate to replace Koffi Annan, Coleman said that on a recent visit to the U.N. headquarters in New York City he made that suggestion himself. "But I don't have any candidates," he advised.

"I given the U.N. tough love," Coleman advised, "But I don't advocate cutting and running at this point."

Last summer, Coleman co-introduced the United Nations Management, Personnel, and the Policy Reform Act of 2005, which is aimed at bringing greater transparency, accountability, and oversight to the U.N. The bill includes the following provisions:

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WASHINGTON -- Calling his review "one senator's perspective on United Nations reform," Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., issued the world body a report card that he said contained "two B's, a C, a couple of F's, and a couple of incompletes." Speaking at the second Jesse Helms...
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Monday, 03 April 2006 12:00 AM
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