WASHINGTON — The ejection of the United States from the U.N. Human Rights Commission has infuriated lawmakers, and some are calling for withholding $650 million in payments to the United Nations.
“This decision is ludicrous,” House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said Friday.
“What they’ve done is thrown out the world’s oldest democracy and put a country with the world’s worst human rights record in its place, Sudan.”
At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer called the U.S. ouster from the panel “a disappointment,” but said it “will not stop this president or this country from speaking out strongly on matters of human rights.”
The panel itself has lost prestige, Fleischer indicated, as it “may not be perceived as the most powerful advocate of human rights in the world,” given its inclusion of Sudan and Libya, two nations the panel has accused of human-rights violations, and exclusion of the United States.
The House is scheduled to vote next week on an $8.2 billion State Department authorization bill that contains $582 million in back dues for the United Nations – long a contentious issue in Congress. The bill also includes $67 million to rejoin UNESCO 17 years after the United States left over concerns about political polarization and mismanagement.
Now, those payments could be in jeopardy.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., said he and other lawmakers are “very seriously considering amendments that would reflect our dramatic loss of faith in the United Nations’ structure.
“Withholding funds is the best way to reflect such a loss of faith.”
And there’s “a real possibility” such amendments could succeed, said Rep. Benjamin Gilman, R-N.Y., former chairman of the House International Relations Committee.
“I think there’s going to be a severe reaction in the Congress,” Gilman said. In addition to cutting U.N. money, he said, “someone approached me last night on the floor (of the House) about withholding aid from countries that voted against us.”
Even Gilman’s own endorsement of paying back dues is wavering: “I’ve been supportive of paying the delinquency, but now I’m not too sure I want to rush into it.”
The United States had held a seat on the human rights panel since it was created in the 1940s.
It lost that seat through a secret vote Thursday in which France, Sweden and Austria were chosen for the three spots allocated to Western countries.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, a frequent critic of the United Nations despite being an architect of the back-dues payment agreement, said, “The absence of the United States will mean that the victims of human rights abuses will no longer have a spokesman to defend their hopes for liberty and freedom.”
Former Secretary of State and U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright said the expulsion was a reflection of “short-term anger that has long-term effects, and I think it’s very unfortunate.
It’s a serious blow, but it’s as much a blow to the U.N., ... which has sidelined itself on human rights issues.”
To Kim Holmes of the conservative Heritage Foundation, the ouster was “an intentional slap at the United States.”
A number of countries, including allies, he said, “are unhappy with the Bush administration and looking for a way to signal
Allies have expressed distress over the Bush administration’s rejection of the Kyoto global warming treaty and its decision to move ahead on a national missile defense system despite their opposition, among other things.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher demurred from that view, saying, “I wouldn’t throw this into an entire critique of U.S. foreign policy by everybody in the world or anything like that.”
Instead, Boucher blamed regional solidarities and vote swapping.
The United States campaigned “very actively for membership” and got more than 40 assurances of support before winding up with only 29 votes, Boucher said.
“As far as who the dozen or so were that told us they would support us and didn’t vote for us, I don’t think we know at this point.”
The latest dispute comes at a time when the post of U.N. ambassador in New York remains vacant.
The White House announced nearly two months ago that Bush would nominate longtime career diplomat John D. Negroponte to the post, but the nomination has yet to be submitted to the Senate.
Some administration critics have suggested the absence of an envoy at the United Nations may have contributed to a lack of vigilance in detecting that a move was afoot to deny the United States a seat.