Global Policy Forum

US Threatens UN Agency Funds Over Report - Writer


By Jonathan Wright

December 18, 2004

The lead writer of a U.N. report on freedom and governance in the Arab world said on Saturday the United States was threatening to cut off funds to a U.N. agency if the United Nations releases it. Nader Fergani, the Egyptian social scientist who has worked on the last three Arab Human Development Reports, told Reuters defying the United States could cost the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) about $100 million a year.

U.S. officials have denied trying to delay or suppress the report, which was originally due to come out in October. But U.N. officials said parts are being rewritten after the United States and some Arab governments asked for changes.

Fergani said the United States had already penalised UNDP by $12 million because it did not like the previous report. "My understanding is that this time they are threatening a much heavier penalty -- the entire U.S. contribution to the UNDP budget, or $100 million," Fergani told Reuters. Washington is unhappy, Fergani said, with sections in the report on the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the activities of its ally Israel in the Palestinian territories. Asked what evidence he had, he said: "Of course there are no official documents. In cases like this, you don't give your opponents something with which to fight back."

A spokeswoman for the UNDP office in Cairo said she could not comment on Fergani's remarks and the office was closed until Sunday for the Egyptian weekend.

Freedom of Expression

The Egyptian government, Fergani said, objected to the parts of the report calling for freedom of expression and association in the Arab world. Ironically, the United States used the first Arab Human Development Report, dated 2002, as the basis for its first detailed proposals on reform in the Arab world.

Fergani said at the time the United States had abused the report to give its ideas some credibility. He said on Saturday many U.S. actions were in complete contradiction with its rhetorical commitment to freedom. "For example, the United States is suppressing the two national liberation movements in the Arab world -- in Iraq and in Palestine," he said.

He said the United States had initially asked for changes to the 2004 report, which concentrates on freedom and good governance in the Arab world. "But now they are trying to suppress it completely," he added. The report is the work of some 100 specialists in the Arab world and the UNDP has spent about $700,000 on it.

UNDP officials said on Thursday they had not buckled to pressure from a member state and the report was undergoing a normal editing process. Spokesman William Orme acknowledged that both Washington and the Egyptians had raised concerns about various parts of the report. But he said both had based their comments based on early drafts of the report which had now been discarded or revised.

Fergani said that after missing the original launch date, the writers were hoping it would come out towards the end of January. "But there is no final date," he added.

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