Global Policy Forum

UN General Assembly Votes to Block Reforms

Ireland On-line
May 9, 2006

In a widely expected vote, the UN General Assembly has approved a recommendation from its main budget committee to block reform proposals that would have given Secretary-General Kofi Annan more budget power. A powerful bloc of developing nations, known as the Group of 77 and China, had yesterday that the reforms would rob them of powers over the UN budget. Because of their overwhelming numbers, they were able to get their way over rich nations that pay more than 85% of UN finances and had supported Annan's proposals.

The vote in the General Assembly, 121 to 50 with two abstentions, could set up a showdown over the UN budget in June. The UN is now operating under a six-month budget cap that can only be lifted if member states conclude that enough progress has been made on reform.

At the heart of the debate were two proposals that would take some power away from the UN General Assembly, where each of the 191 member states gets one vote. One would give more power over the UN budget to a small group of nations. The other would empower the secretary-general to decide when to cut staff and make other managerial decisions.

The Group of 77 and China includes more than 130 countries. The group had orchestrated a vote in the chief UN budget committee late last month, sinking the two ideas. The developing nations said they were committed to UN reform but that Annan's proposals would violate the UN Charter by leaving power in the hands of a few. "The suggestion was made that to reform the United Nations that some countries would not count and their voices would not count," said South Africa's Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, chairman of the Group of 77. "We've corrected that and now we can get on with reforming the UN."

UN General Assembly President Jan Eliasson suggested that it was only natural that some of Annan's proposals, part of a sweeping reform package unveiled in March, would divide the member states. "I think it goes back to the fact that we had a higher degree of ambition than we normally have in the UN," Eliasson said. "If the secretary-general had proposed a less ambitious programme, you would have perhaps achieved that consensus."

Several human rights groups are hailing the election to the new UN Human Rights Council even before today's vote, because rights abusers who were members of its discredited predecessor are not candidates, including Zimbabwe, Libya, Sudan and Syria. That's not to say that all 64 countries seeking seats have stellar human rights records that deserve membership on the council. The rights groups point especially to Cuba, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which are running for seats.

"Inevitably, there will be some governments on the new council who shouldn't be there," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. But human rights groups expect the 47-nation council to be less politicised and tougher on abusers than the Human Rights Commission it is replacing, which came under intense criticism in recent years because some countries with terrible human rights records used their memberships to protect one another from condemnation. "We are looking at a very different selection pool than we traditionally did for the commission, and that's a big step forward," Roth said.

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