“At a time when the U.S. and United Nations are working together to address the world’s most pressing challenges — from humanitarian needs in the Horn of Africa and Haiti, to political crises and violence in Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Afghanistan — it’s more important than ever that America maintain its longstanding commitment to global leadership and engagement.” This quote comes from The Better World Campaign’s “Let US Lead” petition. The petition is a place where individuals can go to show their support for the United Nations and their feelings on a new bill (H.R. 2829), recently introduced in Congress, that threatens to cut U.S. funding of the UN.
The bill, introduced by the head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and 57 co-sponsors, is being called a “Bad bill for everyone,” by the Economist, while CNN has referred to it as a “temper tantrum,”. To put it simply, the bill threatens to make substantial cuts to UN funding as well as all funding to agencies such as UNICEF and the World Food Programme.
The piece of legislation, or “United Nations Transparency, Accountability and Reform Act,” puts much of the good that the UN does throughout the world – such as feeding children impacted by famine and disease, and taking care of refugees – in serious jeopardy. Likewise, the bill would devastate US leadership within the UN, damage critical US national interests, alienate US allies, and put heavier costs on US taxpayers. If passed this new legislation wouldn’t just be harmful to US interests, but it would cause serious detriment within the UN. Such damage would mostly be due to the fact that since its founding the UN’s biggest contributor has been the US. Currently, the US funds 22% of the UN’s regular budget and more than 27% of its peacekeeping budget. Of the UN’s $22.3 billion budget, the US paid $6.4 billion. Because of the US’s continued high involvement and investment into the UN, its withdrawal of support would severely inhibit the organization’s ability to follow through on its commitments.
So why was this bill even introduced if it has the ability to be so harmful to the UN? First, Ros-Lentinen has been a critic of the UN for a long time. She believes the UN has been continuously plagued by scandal, mismanagement and inaction. Thus, her legislation, if passed, would withhold US funds to the UN if the organization does not change its funding systems so that dues are paid on a voluntary basis rather than an assessed one as it stands now. Specifically, as proposed by the bill the UN would have two years to phase in funding reform before the US withholds funds. After those two years the US would begin by withholding half of its contributions to the UN regular budget if less than 80% of the UN’s budget is not funded voluntarily at that time.
The second issue that Ros-Lehtinen has with the UN is its potential to support a Palestinian statehood proposal. She explained to her colleagues that the purpose of her bill is to also avoid a Palestinian self-declared state which she believes would “short-circuit the negotiating process, and would severely undermine opportunities for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.” As a result her bill includes funding cuts to UNRWA, the agency that administers Palestinian refugee camps in the occupied territories and neighboring Arab countries. UNRWA’s budget for the fiscal year 2011 is currently set at $230 million. In this portion of the bill there is currently no condition attached to the cuts, Ros-Lehtinen simply wants to cut off funding to UNRWA.
As the Economist reported, the reality of the situation is that threats of funding cuts will most likely not be a deciding factor as to whether or not Palestinian statehood will be recognized. Rather, a Palestinian statehood proposal will be voted on in the UN’s General Assembly where, as it stands now, the 2/3rds vote in favor of recognition is likely to be met. However, Ghana, India, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Eritrea, France and the Dominican Republic are likely to not change their votes because of the US’s threat to cut off funding to UNICEF – a huge supporter of their states.
In an interview with The Cable on Wednesday, September 7th Representative Howard Berman (D-CA) said that Ros-Lehtinen’s bill was “ill-advised” and “probably dead on arrival.” Berman said he can never see this bill becoming an actual law.
“I think there are some radical proposals here,” Berman said. “I understand the frustration with a number of the U.N.’s actions and I share her frustration and anger at many of them. But the U.N. does tremendous amounts of good work. If you wipe out the funding base of the U.N., as her proposal does, you get the bad stuff but you will eviscerate the good things they are doing.”
Likewise, the White House has openly spoken negatively about the bill, saying that President Obama and his administration opposes the legislation, and although it is believed within the administration that the UN does need reform, this is not the correct way to go about it. Instead the White House suggests that the U.S. work with the UN to continue to make it stronger and more flexible.
Now more than ever is a grassroots movement supporting the good work of the UN important! Visit Let US Lead today and tell Congress to oppose H.R. 2829 by signing the petition. Encourage your friends and family to do the same. You can also schedule an in-person meeting with your member of Congress during the Columbus Day recess (Oct. 13-30). To receive more information on these issues, contact Roger Nokes at UNA-USA for talking points and meeting materials. This is a great way to really ensure that your voice is being heard during this crucial time for the both the UN and America.
If you want to get more involved on advocacy in the Boston area, UNA-GB invites you to join us at our Annual Meeting (September 28) where our programs and priorities for the year will be discussed in depth. It is a fantastic opportunity to get connected on these issues and network with other like minded global citizens in the area – register here today!
Picture this: a beach of sandy white, blue-green waters with foam flecking the surface. Children laughing, flying kites, playing soccer, and swimming through the crashing waves. Along the shore there are giant slides, bouncy castles, and ping-pong tables. Where does your mind take you? To a picturesque day at the New Jersey shore? Or maybe to a carnival on a Florida beachscape?
The scene I am describing actually exists in an area normally torn with pain and hardship—Gaza. However, a UN agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has made great strides in creating an environment that attempts to bring stability to the residents of Palestine and the Gaza Strip. Specifically, this group provides education, health, relief, and social services to eligible Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Gaza, Syria, and the West Bank. Since 2007, they have organized unique summer games for the children to attend, which consist of a total of 1,200 camps, running from June 12th to August 5th.
Last year, the games drew around 250,000 children, located at 25 different beaches along the Gaza coast, where kids received swimming lessons, played various sports, and created arts and crafts. The UNRWA also connected with community based organizations to bring mural-painting, inflatable slides, bouncy castles, swimming pools, dancing, kite making and more. The activities extended into hospitals and orphanages where the UNRWA provided puppet and theater shows, clowns, and cartoons.
The summer games have transformed many of the children. One parent remarks on the necessity of the program:
“This event is so necessary; I mean, the situation being what it is here, children and families really need a break and more of these activities. The kids see so much, and they understand the situation and the suffering of their parents. So these kinds of activities really help them psychologically and encourage their talents. As you can see, here the kids can play, and laugh, and be happy…and we’re happy for them.”
Hopefully, the games will continue to run for years to come. There has been much support so far. The European Union recently donated 2 million Euros to support the camps. The programming truly makes a difference in the lives of the Palestinian youth.
Want to see more? Check out the UNRWA picture gallery.