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U.S. loses its seat on the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
Richard Holbrooke on the agreement to pay dues to the U.N.
U.N. Millennium summit.
Ambassador Richard Holbrooke on war and famine in Africa.
Perils of Peacekeeping
with Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Complete NewsHour coverage of International News
at the U.N.
When civil war, disease or natural disasters strike developing nations, the local government is often overwhelmed. When people are homeless, hungry or under siege, leaders often turn to the United Nations for help.
In 1988, the U.N. sponsored a peace settlement that helped end the Iran-Iraq war. And after earthquakes rocked the nation of El Salvador this winter, U.N. aid workers were on the ground providing food to more than 450,000 people. U.N. health programs have immunized more than 80 percent of the world's children from several killer diseases.
Born in 1945, in the aftermath of World War II, the current United Nations is based in New York City and has representatives from 189 countries. It is the closest thing on the planet to a world governing body, although it does not make laws.
A voice for each member nation
Each member nation has one representative, regardless of its size. When countries become members of the United Nations, they agree to accept the obligations of the U.N. Charter, an international treaty which sets out basic principles of international relations.
In March of 2001, President Bush nominated John D. Negroponte to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Mr. Negroponte has served as a foreign service officer for more than 40 years. The 61-year-old Negroponte retired as a diplomat in 1997 after serving under six different presidents. He was also the president of a large book publisher.
His nomination must
be confirmed by the U.S. Congress, and senators plan to schedule hearings
in the next few weeks.
The U.S. and the U.N.
In May 2001, the U.S. was voted off two major U.N. panels: the Human Rights Commission, and the International Narcotics Control Board.
The U.S. Congress expressed outrage at the ousting, especially since countries like Sierra Leone and China, known for their human rights abuses, hold seats on the Human Rights Commission.
In return, Congress voted to withhold partial payment of their U.N. debt until their two panel seats were returned. Neither seat has been returned as of this week.
What does the U.N. do?
In addition to the main body of the U.N., called the General Assembly, there are several important smaller committees.
The 15-member U.N. Security Council is responsible for maintaining international peace and security. The council can meet at any time, day or night, whenever peace is threatened.
The most recent Security Council meetings concerned the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinians. China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States are permanent members of the Security Council. The other 10 members are elected to two-year terms.
The United Nations has also played an important role in slowing the spread of nuclear weapons through international agreements such as the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (1968) and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (1996).
Fighting Poverty and Disease
Other U.N. goals include promoting human rights, protecting the environment, fighting disease, and reducing poverty. U.N. groups ensure the safe arrival of food and medicine, improve the quality of drinking water, expand food production and help fight drug trafficking and terrorism.
Ever heard of U.N.I.C.E.F? It's actually the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (U.N.I.C.E.F), which aids children in developing countries.
As a global organization, the U.N. works with countries to cooperate on environmental issues. For example, the U.N. has declared the Sundarbans wetlands, which border both India and Bangladesh, as a World Heritage Site. The action protects the vegetation that grows in the swamps and endangered species in the area, such as the over-hunted tigers.
The U.N. also helps rebuild states and stabilize financial markets. In September of 2000, the U.N. assembled the largest gathering of heads of state the Millennium Summit in New York City. Some 180 presidents, prime ministers, and kings gathered to discuss urgent priorities. They agreed to set a goal of sending every child to school and reducing poverty by the year 2015.
The U.N. also protects refugees. In the summer of 1999 the U.N., along with the international military force known as KFOR, was able to protect and transport thousands of Albanian refugees back to their homeland in Kosovo.
Funding the U.N.
The United Nations gets its money from its members. Many nations, including the United States, fail to pay their dues on time or in full. Some states are are going through financial hardships and simply cannot afford to pay their dues. Others withhold payment to make a political point.
However, as more and more nations fail to pay their dues, the U.N. becomes increasingly less secure. As of September of 2000, the United Nations was down over $3 billion, $2.5 billion of which was for peacekeeping missions, one of the U.N.'s top priorities.
Currently, the U.S. owes the most to the U.N. -- a total of $1.9 billion. Many members of Congress want to pay our debt but others don't feel we should have to pay all of it.
The United States currently contributes about 25 percent of the U.N.'s general budget and some members of Congress call for changes at the U.N. before paying such a high price.
Not Without Flaws
Despite the benefits the U.N. claims to provide, some international leaders argue that the U.N. is not an effective organization. Many feel that it cannot be a successful peacemaker because it lacks the major military backing of developed countries. Furthermore, those countries willing to provide troops are those with the worst training.
In 1994, the head of the U.N. decided that 35,000 troops were needed to protect designated 'safe areas' in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The member states took over a year to produce only 7,600 troops. A similar delay caused the situation to worsen in the African nation of Rwanda.
Compliance with U.N. agreements is essentially voluntary. Nations that break their agreements are often scolded by other nations, but there is rarely any punishment.
In the spring of 1997, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan worked to calm tensions between the U.S. and Iraq. However, nine months later when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein broke the agreement, no action was taken to punish Iraq.
Critics say the inability to act in many cases has made it easier for countries who violate human rights or break U.N. rules to ignore the aging organization.
Hopes are high that the U.N.'s success in emergency relief and peace negotiations will eventually pay off and produce the support that it needs to survive. But for now the most they can do is continue to find places to help.
What do you think? Is the U.N. worth supporting?
--Contributed by Ted Kresse
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