Reach Out And Touch Someone, Dammit

The UN has demanded action on global warming, but perhaps they need to look inward before imposing solutions on member nations. The US Chamber of Commerce takes a look at the costs of hauling representatives to the unending stream of international conferences — and wonders why the UN has overlooked a key technology in combating greenhouse-gas emissions:

When the advocates of global-warming alarmism act as though we’re in a crisis, then I’ll give it some credence. Until then, talk to the hand(set).

On Day One: My Submission

Earlier this month, I interviewed Mark Goldberg from On Day One, a new effort from the Better World Fund, founded by Ted Turner. It gives everyone an opportunity to give suggestions to the next American President on what he or she should do on the first day in office. Today, I added my voice to the site and posted the following as my suggestion for either John McCain or Barack Obama.
Our representative democracy relies on strong checks and balances to ensure accountability in government. On day 1, the new American President should make clear to the UN that we will no longer fund a multilateral organization that does not have the same level of accountability. Until we see real reform in the UN, we should ensure that our money does not go towards:
* Human rights panels comprising the world’s worst human-rights abusers that manipulate their work for anti-Israel sloganeering
* Peacekeeping forces that routinely victimize women and children for sexual exploitation, so far in over a dozen deployments
* Peacekeeping missions with unrealistic rules of engagement that keep soldiers from defending themselves and the civilians they supposedly protect
* Corrupt executives who twist well-meaning programs into ATMs for dictators and connected dignitaries
* Leadership which refuses to address these situations
The UN has agencies, such as UNICEF, that do good work, and we should continue to fund these efforts. Until the UN undergoes serious institutional reform, however, we should not contribute to maintaining their funding.
What do you think? You can go to the site and rate my suggestion, and comment on it here or there. It hasn’t yet published to the site, but it should soon do so.
UPDATE: The first submission didn’t take. It’s longer than the 500-character limit and it didn’t publish. I shortened it and it can now be seen at this link.

The UN Remains The UN

Two years ago, Kofi Annan hailed the end of UN’s Commission on Human Rights as a step towards removing the malignant politicization of the UN, and especially its anti-Israel bias. The replacement Human Rights council would have safeguards on both membership and voting to ensure against a repeat of the Israel obsessions of the CHR. It would demonstrate the responsiveness of the UN and rebuild confidence in the institution as a legitimate arena for global relations and for enforcement of human rights.
How has that worked out? Not well — according to a UNICEF spokesperson:

Last week the U.N. Human Rights Council held an emergency session, organized by Arab and Muslim nations, to condemn Israel for its military actions in the Gaza strip. That the council is capable of swift and decisive action is a welcome surprise; that Israel remains the only nation to provoke such action is not. In the 17 months since its inception, the body has passed 13 condemnations, 12 of them against Israel.
The council replaced what was widely viewed as a cancer on the United Nations — an ineffectual “Commission on Human Rights” that also had a single-minded focus on Israel. According to former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, “the selectivity and politicizing of its activities [were] in danger of bringing the entire U.N. system into disrepute.”
The removal of the diseased commission two years ago was heralded by U.N. officials as “the dawn of a new era.” Its replacement was designed to have stricter standards for membership, and rules to prevent politicized voting. But such safeguards were neutered by the time the new Human Rights Council was approved, and the results are that the council is no better than its predecessor.
The problems begin with the council’s composition. Only 25 of its 47 members are classified as “free democracies,” according to Freedom House’s ranking of civil liberties. Nine are classified as “not free.” Four — China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia — are ranked as the “worst of the worst.” These nations are responsible for repeated violations of the U.N.’s own Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet it is they who dominate the council, leading a powerful bloc of predominantly Arab and African nations that consistently vote as a unit.

The results clearly show that the UN has done nothing to improve oversight on human rights. The fact that the worst violators remain on the panel showed that Turtle Bay had no intent to force real reform. The reshuffle and letterhead change provided only a new gloss on very old corruption and scapegoating, and the product of the HRC shows the lack of effective change.
Ronan Fallow believes that the UN can still somehow provide a real forum for human rights, but not in the present form of the HRC. He recommends that it get dismantled and rebuilt. However, the problem doesn’t originate in the HRC but in the UN itself. A body dominated by totalitarian human-rights abusers will not produce any panel that will seriously look at the real perpetrators of oppression and misery. Instead, as they have done twice now, they will generate committees that deflect attention away from themselves.
Who benefits from the HRC? Right now, the biggest beneficiary is the Sudan. Despite numerous attempts to get the HRC to address the genocide in Darfur, the panel has steadfastly refused. Why? Because the African nations on the panel don’t want the scrutiny, and China gets its oil from the Sudan and doesn’t want to disrupt trade. Fallow notes the repeated efforts by the West to get a condemnation from the HRC for the very real genocide occurring under the nose of the UN, and meanwhile all the HRC wants to review is Israel.
Until the UN significantly reforms itself and its membership, any panel at Turtle Bay will remain suspect. Any panel on human rights that includes China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia as judges of violations of human rights is by definition a sick joke, and reflects on its parent organization as the same.

Canada: Durban II Promotes Racism

The 2001 Durban conference on racism turned into such an anti-Semitic rantfest from Muslim nations that the United States and Israel walked out in protest. The decision to leave created a storm of criticism here against the Bush administration, especially when Canada decided to stick around and scold the participants instead of leaving. Next year, the Canadians won’t even bother to appear, calling Durban II a “circus” (via CapQ reader Blaise MacLean):

Canada has withdrawn its support for a UN anti-racism conference slated to take place in South Africa next year, the federal government announced Wednesday.
The so-called Durban II conference “has gone completely off the rails” and Canada wants no part of it, said Jason Kenney, secretary of state for multiculturalism and Canadian identity.
“Canada is interested in combating racism, not promoting it,” Kenney told The Canadian Press. “We’ll attend any conference that is opposed to racism and intolerance, not those that actually promote racism and intolerance.
“Our considered judgment, having participated in the preparatory meetings, was that we were set for a replay of Durban I. And Canada has no intention of lending its good name and resources to such a systematic promotion of hatred and bigotry.”

Originally, Canada wanted to participate in an effort to keep the conference focused on real racism and intolerance. However, when the UN appointed Libya to chair the event, Cuba as the vice-chair, and put its problematic Human Rights Council in charge of oversight, Canada saw the writing on the wall. The HRC has followed the tradition of its predecessor Human Rights Committee in focusing all of its attention on Israel rather than nations that coincidentally sit on the HRC and systematically abuse human rights.
Of course, a few other warning signs have already appeared. The planning sessions got scheduled on Jewish high holy days, effectively ensuring that the Israelis would have no say in the event. However, Iran — whose leader called to have Israel wiped off the map and held a conference to imagine a world without Israel or the US — has been named to the organizing committee.
Canada has made the correct decision. This UN hate-fest only derogates anyone connected with it, as Durban I did. Obviously, the UN has not done anything to eliminate the influence of anti-Semites within its organization, even while staging events like Durban II to scold the world for racism. Perhaps the critics who lashed out at the Bush administration for its refusal to endorse such a despicable event will consider Canada’s rejection as evidence that the White House got this right in 2001.

UN Admits AIDS Hysterics

The United Nations grossly overestimated both the scope and direction of AIDS infections, its scientists will admit later this week. The actual numbers in almost every theater have proven to be much less than UN reports indication, in some places less than half of that asserted. Outside researchers say that their demands for government funding motivated them to essentially lie about the gravity of the situation:

The United Nations’ top AIDS scientists plan to acknowledge this week that they have long overestimated both the size and the course of the epidemic, which they now believe has been slowing for nearly a decade, according to U.N. documents prepared for the announcement.
AIDS remains a devastating public health crisis in the most heavily affected areas of sub-Saharan Africa. But the far-reaching revisions amount to at least a partial acknowledgment of criticisms long leveled by outside researchers who disputed the U.N. portrayal of an ever-expanding global epidemic.
The latest estimates, due to be released publicly Tuesday, put the number of annual new HIV infections at 2.5 million, a cut of more than 40 percent from last year’s estimate, documents show. The worldwide total of people infected with HIV — estimated a year ago at nearly 40 million and rising — now will be reported as 33 million. …
“There was a tendency toward alarmism, and that fit perhaps a certain fundraising agenda,” said Helen Epstein, author of “The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West, and the Fight Against AIDS.” “I hope these new numbers will help refocus the response in a more pragmatic way.”

So where did the estimates go awry? They relied too heavily on pregnant women as a leading indicator, not taking into account the obvious fact that pregnant women were more sexually active than others in the population. New studies show that India has less than half of the AIDS cases originally assumed, and even in sub-Saharan Africa, the UN overestimated the epidemic. They will retract previous estimates in Nigeria, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Former WHO AIDS expert James Chin thinks the numbers are still too high. He said 33 million puts the UN in the ballpark, but that his research indicates that the actual number of cases is no more than 25 million. That means that the UN overshot the entire epidemic by almost 40%. They wouldn’t be retracting the 40 million if it hadn’t been for Chin and other researchers like him, who saw the exaggerations for what they were — a mechanism of guilt to force Western nations to pony up more money for UNAIDS.
This kind of scientific work casts new doubt on other issues that the UN champions as well. Their panel on global warming will publish a new position, insisting that the situation is critical and that nations need to act now in economically-crippling ways to curtail emissions. As Scott Ott notes rather trenchantly, they’re basically saying that all of the people who don’t really have AIDS will drown in the rising ocean levels instead of dying from HIV infections.
Why should we trust their scientists on this when they’ve consistently fibbed about AIDS? They have a track record of hysterics and exaggerations for political purposes. They’ve turned themselves into an advocacy group for statist policies, and any UN report on impending disasters should come with a five-pound sack of Morton’s Salt in the future.

DR Congo About To Erupt

Human Rights Watch warns that a three-way war between Hutus, Tutsis, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo forces will erupt soon, unless the UN intervenes to avoid the catastrophe. Unfortunately for the people of the DRC, the UN has already intervened:

All sides in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo are guilty of murder, rape and forcing children to fight, Human Rights Watch says.
The New York-based human rights group says the UN has been slow to react to the worsening crisis in the east which is developing into a Hutu-Tutsi war.
The Congolese army has threatened an all-out offensive against both Tutsi and Hutu militias in the region.

This conflict follows directly from the Rwandan genocide of 1994. The Hutus fled into the DRC after the massacres, and have tried to establish ties with the government for their own protection. The Hutus, authors of the Rwandan genocide and who fled the revenge of the Tutsis, have come into conflict with the Tutsis again. The Tutsis and accuse the DRC of being the paid agents of the Hutus. The Tutsis want to tangle again, and the DRC apparently wants all of them to leave.
It sounds like another great opportunity for the international community to intervene. In fact, the opportunity arrived eight years ago. The UN established the MONUC mission in 1999, which has had its mandate extended several times, including at least once this year. As far back as 2004, MONUC had a mandate to disarm foreign militias, but that has obviously not been done. The 11,000-member MONUC force has done little but act as observers as the situation has deteriorated.
Sound familiar? It is exactly what happened with the UNIFIL force in Lebanon — twice. Even after the UNIFIL forces showed how inept they had been in keeping heavy munitions out of the hands of Hezbollah in the 2006 war, the UN decided to go back to the UNIFIL model — and Hezbollah rearmed itself within months under the UN’s collective nose.
The UN has proven it intervention valueless. The UN will not engage in the kind of action that would result in disarming combatants, which means that their only value lies in acting as sitting ducks, whose deaths might — might — provoke a reaction from a nation with the will to actually conduct military operations. Unfortunately, these sitting ducks have a terrible track record for abusing the local populace, especially in Africa, which makes them almost as unpopular as those who they supposedly must disarm, if not more so.
It comes as no surprise that another UN intervention will soon collapse. When will we finally note the successive failures and realize that putting blue helmets on a group of men who will take no action does nothing to advance the cause of peace?
UPDATE: I had the Hutus and Tutsis reversed in the Rwandan genocide. Thanks to the several commenters who noted this, and I apologize for the error.

Bush’s State Of The Global Union Speech

George Bush just finished delivering his speech at the UN General Assembly, which I live-blogged at Heading Right. The President acquitted himself well on the world stage, speaking on a broad range of topics, to general approbation. However, he missed an opportunity to emphasize a narrower set of national priorities, and in the end gave what sounded like a State of the Union speech.
As expected, he spent more time on Myanmar than any other topic. He repeatedly and pointedly called the nation Burma, its former name prior to the military coup. Bush timed the attention to coincide with the most extensive protests against the junta yet seen, and challenged the General Assembly to take steps to support the democracy activists.
Bush scored points by tying Burma/Myanmar to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN’s failure to pursue it in other places. He singled out Lebanon, Syria, and Iran in this portion of the speech, but he didn’t follow up well. Bush could have pointed out that Syria still defies UN Security Council demands for cooperation in the investigation of the Hariri assassination — or that they continue to assassinate Lebanese politicians to this day. He never even mentioned the Iranian intransigence on nuclear proliferation or their state sponsorship of terrorism. He did cast Iran’s government as oppressive, but quickly shifted topics.
The second half of the speech turned into a succession of promises for more American spending on UN priorities. It almost sounded like a campaign speech for the UNGA presidency. Bush committed $30 billion to fight AIDS, increased funds to fight malaria, and promises of more resources to fight poverty and famine. He never mentioned the primary cause for both: the corrupt and dictatorial political systems in nations that suffer from them. Bush never called for political reform in places like Zimbabwe as a means to lift the standard of living, and even his calls for UN reform were brief and nebulous.
It wasn’t a bad speech. It could have been so much better. The UN does not need a State of the Global Union address — it needs blunt, honest truths about its shortcomings and the necessary steps to bring prosperity and freedom to the entire world.

Bush To Address UN On Myanmar

President Bush will speak to the UN General Assembly this morning at 9:45 ET — and will focus his remarks on an issue that has drifted off the radar screen. He will highlight the human-rights abuses in Myanmar as Buddhist monks make their strongest protest yet against the ruling military junta (via Michelle Malkin):

President Bush will address the U.N. General Assembly this morning at 9:45 a.m. EDT. Bush wants the U.N. to uphold its pledge to fight for freedom in lands of poverty and terror, and plans to punctuate his challenge by promising new sanctions against the military regime in Myanmar.
Bush is expected to mention Iran in his speech—but only briefly, citing Iran in a list of countries where people lack freedoms and live in fear. The White House wants to avoid giving any more attention to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose splash of speeches and interviews has dominated the days leading to the U.N. meeting.
Instead of Iran, the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar, also known as Burma, was drawing Bush’s ire. He was expected to announce new visa restrictions and financial sanctions against the regime and those who provide it financial aid.
The policies come as Myanmar’s military government issued a threat Monday to the barefoot Buddhist monks who led 100,000 people marching through a major city. It was the strongest protest against the repressive regime in two decades.

Understandably, we need to focus more attention on Myanmar than we presently manage. However, it seems rather odd that Bush would choose that issue for his central focus rather than challenge the nations of the General Assembly to pressure Iran. After all, our own national interests count for something, and a UNGA address gives Bush the best platform to call for action against a rogue nation.
It would also provide an excellent opportunity to remind people of the war on terror. Bush wants to use Myanmar as a point in arguing for human liberty through democracy, but that point could be made just as well by highlighting the depredations of radical Islamists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, not to mention Darfur. The UN just announced its intention to get involved in Iraq again, and Bush could have used that as a means to argue that the Iraq effort showcased our intention to see people freed from oppression and tyranny, and how that fits into our national interests and the interests of all free nations.
Meanwhile, the monks in Myanmar have made an impressive showing:

Tens of thousands of Buddhist monks and sympathizers defied orders from the military junta to stay out of politics, protesting Tuesday in the country’s two biggest cities. Soldiers, including an army division that took part in the brutal suppression of a 1988 uprising, converged on the capital.
Cheered on by supporters, the monks marched out for an eighth day of peaceful protest from Yangon’s soaring Shwedagon Pagoda, while some 700 others staged a similar show of defiance in the country’s second largest city of Mandalay.

Any gathering of people in numbers greater than five has been outlawed by the military regime. So far, they appear powerless to stop the monks through civil law enforcement. They may have to resort to military force — and that could touch off a bloody revolution. We may be seeing a Robed Revolution in the making, even without the UNGA’s support.
I’ll live-blog the speech at Heading Right. Be sure to keep checking the thread.

The UNDP Is A Loose Cannon

Claudia Rosett, one of the best resources on the United Nations in the national media, gives a lengthy explanation of the UN Development Program at National Review — and it’s not pretty. The UNDP, which retaliated against whistleblower Artjon Shkurtaj and refuses to abide by UN ethics reforms, has operated independent of UN leadership for years, assisted by its cozy ties to the worst regimes in the world:

Quite simply, the UNDP is, for most practical purposes, morphing from a development agency into a species of highly privileged rogue state — operating, it seems, outside any jurisdiction. In theory the UNDP reports to the General Assembly, but to suggest that any actual oversight takes place is a joke. The General Assembly is a sprawling 192 member-state committee. Last year its members scrapped a package of U.N. management-reform proposals rather than jeopardize via even a slight increase in transparency and accountability their vast lattice of politicized U.N. berths, boondoggles, and special interests. You’d get better results reassigning the UNDP to report to a random group of shoppers at your local supermarket.
Nor is the UNDP some trim little outfit that confines itself to sending bednets to the impoverished. It operates in 166 of the U.N.’s 192 member states, in cahoots at high levels with a roster of thug governments from Syria to Iran to China to Zimbabwe. Until public scandal forced the closure of its Pyongyang office this March, the UNDP had a weirdly cozy (and cash-based) relationship with the totalitarian government of North Korea. That is part of what Shkurtaj was trying to call attention to when he lost his job.
For its own programs and on behalf of other U.N. agencies, the UNDP dishes out more than $5 billion per year, worldwide — more than twice the core budget of the Secretariat. This means that about one-quarter of all money spent every year by the entire U.N. system flows through the ethics-rejecting UNDP. In scores of countries, UNDP offices shovel millions into projects that according to some U.N. staff get a no more than a cursory glance at the UNDP’s executive board meetings. Most are approved in big batches, often without any inquiry into details, budgets, or what the projects are really doing under such labels as “governance,” “empowerment,” and “capacity building.”

Funding for the UNDP does not all come from transparent streams, either. Contributions come from at least hundreds of sources which bypass the UN Secretariat. The agency redistributes these funds with no oversight and no transparency, a situation which lends itself to abuse. No meaningful audit process appears to exist at all, which seems extremely familiar to anyone who knows anything about the Oil-for-Food Program, which turned into the largest corruption and embezzlement case in human history.
Not surprisingly, Kofi Annan acolyte Mark Malloch-Brown was instrumental in building the UNDP’s funding base and increasing its opacity.
Rosett calls the UNDP a “global empire”, and that appears correct at least on the basis of attitude. The manner in which it has answered for the treatment of Shkurtaj exemplifies this. Not only did they flagrantly violate the much-vaunted reforms the UN adopted with promises of ending the very corruption the UNDP represents, they now essentially reject the oversight of the UN Secretariat — and appear to have succeeded in doing so.
Obviously, Ban Ki-moon has to do something to respond to the UNDP’s challenge to his authority. Rosett suggests appointing a special investigator — someone who knows the UNDP and its inner workings, who can find the skeletons, and who can root out the corruption and arrogance. It turns out that one candidate who fits the bill is available — because he just lost his job at the UNDP for trying to expose its unethical practices. If the UN is serious about reform, putting Shkurtaj on the case of the UNDP would be a good start.

UN Ethics Reforms Fail To Protect Whistleblower

The vaunted reforms adopted by the United Nations over the last two years have already failed to protect an important whistleblower. The executive in charge of the program where the whistleblower worked refuses to submit to an independent ethics probe, and in the meantime, Artjon Shkurtaj finds himself out of a job:

The top U.N. ethics official has found preliminary evidence that the U.N. Development Program retaliated against an employee who exposed abuse and rules violations in the agency’s programs in North Korea.
But the UNDP has refused a request from the ethics chief, Robert Benson, to submit to a formal investigation, saying it would appoint its own independent investigator. Benson’s findings, detailed in a confidential letter obtained by The Washington Post, dealt a blow to the United Nations’ top development agency, which has long said that the subject of Benson’s inquiry, Albanian national Artjon Shkurtaj, is not a whistle-blower.
Shkurtaj, who previously served in North Korea, said that he had worked for the United Nations since 1994 and that he was forced out after raising concerns about UNDP violations of its rules prohibiting the payment of local workers in foreign currency and the existence of $3,500 in counterfeit U.S. currency in a UNDP safe. The UNDP says that Shkurtaj is a U.N. consultant, not a staff employee, and that the agency declined to renew his contract after it expired in March.
“I noticed significant problems with how UNDP worked in that country,” Shkurtaj said Monday. “I alerted my chain of command of violations of U.N. rules, but they did nothing. I used the provisions of the U.N. whistle-blower protection policy and went to the outside to report these problems. UNDP retaliated against me for being a whistle-blower.”
Shkurtaj said he took his concerns to U.S. officials and the news media after the UNDP did not act. But UNDP officials have questioned his credibility in discussions with U.S. government officials and with the media. They have denied that he alerted his bosses to the presence of counterfeit cash.

Turtle Bay insisted that its new whistleblower protections would make the UN more responsive to corruption and abuse allegations. The UN has been rocked by a long series of scandals and embarrassments, including widespread sexual abuse and exploitation among its peacekeeping missions. The Oil-for-Food Program wound up so corrupt that it put billions of dollars into the pocket of the tyrant it meant to cripple while starving the Iraqis it meant to feed. The ethics reforms were meant to keep those scandals and abuses from repeating themselves, and the whistleblower protections supposedly guaranteed that UN employees would reveal them without fear of retaliation.
However, the definition of employee lies at the center of the UN’s dodge. Shkurtaj worked at the UNDP as a contractor, as do many of his colleagues. Technically, Shkurtaj didn’t get fired for blowing the whistle; the UNDP just didn’t renew his contract. Also, the UN policy on whistleblowers only applies to those who work directly for the UN Secretary-General — so none of its subsidiary agencies have any requirement to adopt it.
That will certainly send a clear message to all UN contractors. If you value your job, keep your mouth shut. It will also encourage the UN and its subsidiary agencies to spend the extra money to use contract workers rather hire employees. Executives at these agencies can consider the extra cost a type of job insurance — for themselves.
In the meantime, the UNDP says it will investigate Shkurtaj’s allegations on its own, including how the UNDP managed to keep Kim Jong-Il’s counterfeit money safe for him in their office vault. We can expect that wide-ranging inquiry to appear at about the same time that the UN closes its peacekeeping seraglios in Africa.