Global Policy Forum

UN Bodies Survive US Funding Threats


By Thalif Deen

Inter Press Service
January 10, 2006

The United States, a major funder of the United Nations and its myriad agencies, has a longstanding notoriety for exercising its financial clout to threaten U.N. bodies refusing to play ball with Washington.

Back in 1984, it withdrew from the Paris-based U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), citing disagreement over its management, and also opposing a proposed plan for the creation of a new international information order. The withdrawal resulted in a substantive 25 percent U.S. cut in UNESCO's annual 180-million-dollar budget. But despite the sharp cut, UNESCO continued to survive -- minus the United States. In 2003, however, Washington returned to the fold, arguing it could live with the then new management.

Last month, the administration of President George W. Bush threatened to hold up the U.N. budget for 2006-2007 until and unless member states agreed to U.S.-inspired management reforms, including the appointment of a chief operating officer mandated to run the world body along the lines of a U.S. corporation. Since the overwhelming majority was opposed to some of the proposed reforms, the U.N.'s administrative and budgetary committee eventually agreed on a U.S.-proposed compromise: Secretary-General Kofi Annan was authorised to spend only 950 million dollars over a six-month period pending significant action on reforms, thereby emasculating the U.N.'s traditional biennium budget.

"It is clear that in six months we can assess progress on management reform issues and then decide how to address resource questions for the remainder of 2006," U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff told delegates last month. Meanwhile, the Bush administration has withheld a total of about 127 million dollars -- a sum duly appropriated by the U.S. Congress -- from the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA).

In 2002, Washington cut 34 million dollars; in 2003, 25 million dollars; and in 2004 and 2005, 34 million dollars each. The cuts were prompted by a misconceived charge that UNFPA was supporting and promoting abortions in China -- a view strongly held by neo-conservatives and right wing Christian fundamentalists who are strong political supporters of Bush.

"UNFPA does not support abortion, neither in China nor anywhere else in the world," a UNFPA spokesman told IPS. "Our work in China aims at expanding access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including family planning, skilled birth attendance, emergency obstetric care and the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS," he added.

Moreover, several independent fact-finding missions to China, including one by the U.S. State Department, reported they found no evidence that UNFPA supported or participated in the management of any programme of coercive abortion, he said. "The United States failed to derail two U.N. agencies despite cutting off funds," an Asian diplomat told IPS. "Both UNESCO and UNFPA have survived the U.S. onslaught."

UNFPA executive director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid told reporters last week that more countries contributed to UNFPA in 2005 than in any year since its establishment in 1969: 171 donors compared to the 2004 record of 166. Contributions to the UNFPA regular resources last year were also the highest ever, increasing to some 350 million dollars, from the previous year's level of 322 million dollars.

The top six donors in 2005 were the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Britain, Japan and Denmark. "But every nation in Africa also pledged funds to the agency," Obaid said. "We are extremely thankful for this overwhelming show of support from United Nations member states," she added. "I hope that more and more countries come on board and that our regular income will continue to grow so that UNFPA can more effectively promote reproductive and sexual health and HIV prevention, particularly among adolescents."

Anika Rahman, president of the New York-based Americans for UNFPA, said UNFPA's record donations in 2005 reflect the world's recognition of its work to promote the rights and health of women. "Although Americans consider the United States to be a leader in advancing such causes, the reality is that the Bush administration's withholding of over 125 million dollars to UNFPA reflects a callous disregard for the world's women," Rahman told IPS.

Lawrence Smith, Jr., president of the Washington-based Population Institute, said the resounding vote of confidence is a tribute to UNFPA's response to the reproductive health and family planning needs of the world's poorest nations. "At the same time, the announcement reflects a sad irony. In the 1960s, the United States stood virtually alone in convincing the world community to establish UNFPA as a necessary component for achieving world population stabilisation," Smith told IPS.

Today, the world community struggles to convince the Bush administration in Washington that, with 350 million poor women lacking access to family planning and reproductive health, slowing down population growth continues to be a critical global issue, he added. Werner Fornos, a U.N. Population Award Laureate, told IPS that the increase in funding for UNFPA is a sign that the world fully comprehends the significance and severity of the grave population issues confronting all of us.

"It further demonstrates the world community's confidence in the work of UNFPA, despite the fact that the richest country on earth is not contributing a single dime to the Fund," he added.

Finally, it places the spotlight on "the shamefully and deservedly lonely position of President Bush, who in his personal opposition to UNFPA, has chosen instead the path of a reprehensible retreat from reality", Fornos said.

More Information on UN Finance
More General Articles on UN Finance
More Information on UN Programmes, Funds and Specialized Agencies


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.