Vive Le Canada

U.N. backs diluted reform blueprint
Date: Wednesday, September 14 2005
Topic: Military, Security, and Defence

U.N. backs diluted reform blueprint
Canadian plans win approval
Document called heavy on rhetoric


NEW YORK—Weary diplomats ended days of wrangling over a landmark United Nations reform package late yesterday, producing a diluted declaration that was labelled heavy on rhetoric and light on substance.

The document, which is to be presented to the U.N.'s 60th anniversary summit, covers issues ranging from fighting poverty to combatting terrorism and eliminating inefficiency in the running of the world body.

But some key Canadian-backed proposals were the success stories of the day, endorsed by the U.N. General Assembly, and to be discussed by 180 world leaders during the historic three-day gathering that opens today.

They include an agreement on U.N. members' responsibility to protect vulnerable people from massive violations of human rights, and a substantial boost for the office of U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour.

"There was sleep deprivation and long negotiations," said Allan Rock, Canada's U.N. ambassador. "But in the end we made real progress."

Other sections of the summit declaration, he admitted, drew a "more mixed reaction," including failure to agree on the membership of a new Human Rights Council, to get a universally agreed definition of terrorism, and to move swiftly to form a peacebuilding commission for countries in the perilous transition from war to civil society.

"It isn't everything we wanted, but we can build on it," said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, whose sweeping proposals for U.N. reform shrank to mere statements of principle in some sections of the summit document.

Negotiators also failed to agree on how to tackle nuclear proliferation and disarmament, drawing sharp criticism from Annan.

"This is a real disgrace," he said.

The summit, the largest in world history, takes place on the 60th anniversary of the U.N. But diplomats say, the birthday present Annan hoped for — endorsement of visionary reforms — was little more than a consolation prize.

While the United States decried the document's lack of detail on overhauling the U.N.'s scandal-ridden management, and Britain failed to get Washington's endorsement of some anti-poverty goals, Canada had some reason to celebrate.

As the summit document was tabled, Prime Minister Paul Martin arrived in New York and attended a reception given by U.S. President George W. Bush, before meeting with other leaders at a dinner hosted by Mexican President Vicente Fox.

Ottawa had conducted a long campaign to push through the "responsibility to protect" concept, a response to the genocide in Rwanda.

Contrary to some predictions, it survived opposition from countries that are regularly accused of violating human rights, as well as others opposed to language that would force them to act against their will, or to support intervention for political reasons.

"This will put the focus on prevention, talking about early warning before armed intervention is necessary," said Rock. "And at the end of the day, what you have are 180 leaders adopting a specific declaration that the Security Council will react in a timely and effective manner to stop genocide."

A doubling of resources for Arbour's office will also further the cause of human rights, Rock said.

"It gives her the ability to put more people in the field. She's developed a good effective plan that can now have a real chance to succeed."

But Canada and other Western countries found other sections of the summit declaration disappointing — including sections on fighting terrorism, and setting up a new Human Rights Council to replace a discredited commission that is sometimes led by countries notorious for their human rights violations.

"We didn't crack terrorism," said a European diplomat who had attended negotiations. "The West wanted explicit language against any and all attacks on civilians, but the Arab countries wanted to eliminate people fighting against occupation from the definition of terrorism."

Peggy Hicks, Global Advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, said "the Human Rights Council is a litmus test for the upcoming summit, and global leaders are in danger of failing it."

Countries Annan has called "spoilers" — Cuba, Venezuela, Pakistan, Syria and others — have blocked several of the reforms, and diplomats said that developing countries felt threatened by management reforms that would take power away from the 191-member General Assembly, with a majority of poorer countries, and put it in the hands of the secretary-general.

But U.S. Ambassador John Bolton, who had been accused of torpedoing the summit by tabling hundreds of last minute amendments, put a brave face on efforts to reach accord on reform.

"It was only ever going to be the first step," Bolton told reporters.

"The nature of the culture is such that the changes we want, both in the way the secretariat functions, and the way member governments function, needs to be changed in a substantial way."

Much of the document was devoted to the Millennium Development Goals, which most rich and poor countries support in principle.

But the Bush administration has argued with the goal for wealthy donors to give 0.7 per cent of their GDP to help the neediest.

British diplomats, however, have hailed the summit document as an endorsement of the declaration by eight major industrial countries in a recent summit in Scotland. Among other elements, it would cancel $40 billion (U.S.) in debt held by poor countries.

[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on September 14, 2005]

This article comes from Vive Le Canada

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