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U.S. funding debated after ouster from U.N. human rights, drug panels

WASHINGTON (BP)–The United States has lost its seat on a second key United Nations panel — the International Narcotics Control Board, according to news reports May 8, following on the heels of news that the United States had lost its seat on the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

Both votes were taken during the 54-member United Nations Economic and Social Council’s March-April meetings in Geneva, Switzerland. The council is the U.N. umbrella body for the Commission on Human Rights and the 13-member International Narcotics Control Board.

The secret ballot votes against the United States have prompted debate in Washington over sticking by a commitment to pay nearly $600 million toward back dues owed to the world body.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer expressed disappointment May 8 that the United States was voted off both U.N. panels but said President Bush “believes we should pay the dues that we owe to the United Nations,” according to a press briefing report on CNSNews.com.

Fleischer added, “But the president is also concerned about the signal the United Nations, through these two entities, is sending to the world about the seriousness with which these entities will carry out their mission in fighting for human rights or fighting against drugs.”

Fleischer continued, “It’s hard to be committed to the cause of human rights when you’ve put Sudan and Libya on a panel that’s dedicated to fighting for the cause of human rights. The real losers in this equation are people around the world who are struggling to be free. The United States is going to continue its role as a beacon of freedom and human rights. And the president will continue to speak out.”

Fleischer said he thinks the United Nations will be weakened in its fight for freedom and human rights in the wake of the vote against U.S. membership on the commission, CNSNews.com reported.

“It’s unfortunate that this one panel of the United Nations will be a weakened voice in that effort. But I remind you that this is not the full United Nations,” Fleischer said. “The full United Nations will be able to carry out its work on human rights and other areas. The real losers here are people around the world who are struggling for freedom and whose human rights need to be protected. They’re the ones affected by this vote. It’s not the United States.”

France, Austria and Sweden were elected to the Human Rights Commission seats that are allocated to Western countries. The United States had held a seat since the commission’s inception in 1947.

Of the vote against U.S. membership on the narcotics board, Fleischer said, “… it’s not going to stop this president, however, from vociferously carrying out America’s role around the world in reducing the flow of narcotics and fighting the drug war at home” as well as “the scourge of drug abuse around the world.”

Of the pending congressional authorization of $582 million in partial payment of U.N. dues, Rep. Benjamin Gilman, R.-N.Y., former chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said, “I think there’s going to be a severe reaction in the Congress.”

The Associated Press reported that moves were afoot to proceed with the $582 million but to condition the final payment of $244 million on the United States being voted back onto the rights commission at next year’s meetings in Geneva.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a telephone interview with The New York Times, acknowledged that the United States was caught off-guard by the U.N. action, but stated, “One thing I can guarantee you is that we will be back on [the human rights commission] next year.”

China was among the countries that lobbied to get the United States removed from the human rights panel, The Times reported, in retaliation for the annual resolution that Washington sponsors condemning Beijing’s treatment of dissidents and, this year, the Falun Gong movement.

Powell told The Times, “A lot of this has to do with the aggressiveness with which we have pressed our human rights agenda.”

William Luers, president of the United Nations Association of the United States, the largest American support group for the world body, told CNSNews.com the U.N. vote against U.S. membership on the Commission on Human Rights is “an unequivocally devastating blow. It couldn’t be worse. All the conservatives in the [Bush] administration will see this as proof that we are in an organization full of enemies.”

One of those conservatives, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, R.-N.C., said he wasn’t surprised by the commission vote.

“There’s no surprise that a few European countries maneuvered in a secret vote to eliminate the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Countries like China, Cuba and Sudan will no longer be subject to the careful scrutiny that the United States has always demanded,” Helms said in a statement.

Gilman, meanwhile, said, “This U.N. [Human Rights] Commission has increasingly become a refuge for despots and scoundrels, indicative of our nation’s inattention to this problem for the past eight years. We have allowed powerful governments, such as China, to dominate the commission … The commission has turned into a closely knit group of human rights abusers.” Gilman cited China, Cuba, Libya, Syria and Sudan in particular.

House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt, meanwhile, blamed the Bush administration for the U.N. vote.

Gephardt, of Missouri, issued a statement saying that “the Bush administration’s recent withdrawal from the Kyoto Treaty and its willingness to shatter the international arms control framework in pursuit of unproven missile defenses influenced the vote by other nations against our nomination to the commission … This is very unfortunate.”

Amnesty International USA described the U.S. removal from the human rights panel as “part of an effort by nations that routinely violate human rights to escape scrutiny. The U.S. was among the few nations willing to actively push for condemnation at the U.N.H.R.C. of the brutal human rights violations committed by nations like China.”

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