Global Policy Forum

US Handling of Reform Angers Developing Nations


By Irwin Arieff

Feberuary 17, 2006

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton's drive to crack down on U.N. fraud and abuse is triggering a backlash from developing nations who fear Washington is trying to wrest control from U.N. members. The simmering conflict between Washington and the developing nations that make up a majority of U.N. members boiled to the surface this week when two U.S. Congressmen said nonaligned states had "worked feverishly in New York to block the efforts ... to clean up the institution."

"We and our colleagues in the House of Representatives have followed, and will continue to follow, your actions very closely, and we intend to hold you accountable for them," Republican Henry Hyde of Illinois and Democrat Tom Lantos of California wrote South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo in a letter circulated at the United Nations on Friday. Kumalo is current chairman of the Group of 77, a bloc of 132 developing nations and China. Diplomats from developing nations said they were enraged by the letter. "There is obviously a lot of tension right now" in the membership, U.N. chief spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Hyde is chairman and Lantos the top Democrat on the U.S. House International Relations Committee. They wrote after Kumalo complained to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that an internal audit of U.N. procurement fraud had been leaked to the media before the General Assembly, where each of the 191 U.N. member-nations has a seat and no one has a veto.

Leaks "Not Helpful"

While the block takes allegations of abuse fraud and mismanagement "with the utmost seriousness," the leaks and a subsequent press briefing on the matter were "not helpful," Kumalo said, accusing Annan of bypassing the General Assembly. While Kumalo's letter did not mention Bolton or the United States, the message was clear. Christopher Burnham, an American serving as the U.N. undersecretary-general for management, had given a press briefing on audits into peacekeeping.

Diplomats accused Burnham of damaging the case for U.N. reform after taking office by telling the Washington Post, "I came here at the request of the White House. It's my duty to make the U.N. more effective. My primary loyalty is to the United States of America." He later apologized.

Developing nations have long suspected wealthy nations, and particularly the United States, of seeking reforms after the Iraq oil-for-food scandal to impose their will on small nations while shielding their own actions. Tensions escalated after Bolton, who holds the rotating presidency of the 15-nation Security Council in February, scheduled council meetings next week on procurement fraud and sexual abuse by peacekeepers. Developing nations protested these were General Assembly matters rather than the council's, a stand Annan supported.

Malaysian Ambassador Hamidon Ali, chairman of the 116-nation Non-Aligned Movement, warned General Assembly President Jan Eliasson this week of the "dangers of encroachment by the council on issues which clearly fall within the functions and powers of the assembly." Eliasson agrees it is important to uphold and strengthen the assembly's authority and is discussing the matter with Bolton, spokeswoman Freh Bekelle told reporters on Friday.

But Bolton denied stepping on the assembly's toes and invited the assembly to hold its own hearings, saying the two U.N. bodies shared jurisdiction over the matters. He also defended Lantos and Hyde, saying U.S. lawmakers were free to write letters to anyone they wished. "The United States believes in taking action and being effective, and we don't apologize to anybody for that," Bolton told reporters. "The Security Council is acting, and other bodies can act as well."

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