January 1996 Home   Newsletters

February 1996

March 1996

President's Message (Suzanne Meisenzahl)
Vote Counts Cancelled (Arlene Ellis)
Report of the Membership Recruitment Committee (Grace Furukawa)
League on "Oahu Speaks" Special
Cheryl Soon to Speak at P&Z Committee Meeting (Astrid Monson)
Testimony on Bill Relating to Development Agreements
State News - House Committee on Finance: Taxation
Court Monitoring Project Underway
National News - Challenge to National Voter Registration Act
Action Call
Many Voices One Vision
Annual United Nations Wrap-Up (insert) (Margery Cohen)

Annual United Nations Wrap-Up (insert)

This year many local Leagues helped celebrate and commemorate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, part of a world wide acknowledgment of the achievements of this unique institution. Ironically, It also is a time of concern, with the United Nations under fire for what is seen as peacekeeping failures and a lack of good fiscal management and efficiency.

Washington politicians in particular have worked to reduce the funding for all UN operations, from peacekeeping to the agencies, and to cut back on UN security operations as well as U.S. participation in these activities. However, commenting on a December poll by the Wirthlin Group, John C. Whitehead, Chairman of UNA-USA and former Deputy Secretary of State, said, "what is most striking is the consistent growth in the American people's preference for handling international problems through international institutions." The poll showed that UN performance ratings have risen to a historical high; 54 percent say the UN is doing a good job, compared to a 45-percent approval rating one year after Desert Storm.

UN management reform has been going forward under the supervision of an American, Joseph E. Connor, former C.E.O. of Price Waterhouse, as the Under-Secretary General for Administration and Management. The UN Secretariat operates on a zerogrowth basis. Next year's proposed budget is 4 percent smaller than this year's. Since 1988, as part of a continuing streamlining effort, 10 percent of the U.N. Secretariat staff has been cut, and the Secretary General has cut top posts by 2 percent. Tough new standards have been set for staff performance. In 1994, a special UN investigative unit, the Office of Internal Oversight, was established and is-actively carrying out its mandate to eliminate waste and corruption. The budget for the UN operating administrative bodies (the Secretariats in New York, Geneva, Nairobi, Vienna and five regional commissions) is S 1.3 billion a year – about 4 percent of New York City's annual budget. The U.S. share of the UN's annual budget is $315 million, costing each U.S. citizen $3.10.

While 80 percent of the work of the UN system is devoted to helping developing countries build the capacity to help themselves, the UN has the equivalent of less than $1.75 per human being to spend on economic and social development. In addition, it works to promote and protect democracy and human rights; to save children from starvation and disease; to provide relief assistance to refugees and disaster victims; to combat global crime, drugs and disease; and to assist countries devastated by war and land mines.

The governments of the world spent $767 billion in military expenditures in 1994 ($134 per human being). Because of the short- and long-range impact of the UN's work in economic and social development, it is in the U.S. interest to help nurture the conditions for more peaceful and prosperous societies around the world. UN work creates the conditions for better worldwide markets that benefit our country and our economic partners. We need to tell our legislators that, as a world power, we must pay our treaty obligations to the regular UN budget and continue our contributions to its agencies and peacekeeping. For every dollar that the U.S. contributes to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), U.S. companies get back $4 in UNDP procurement orders.

Senator Joseph Biden (D DE) has said that "the international affairs budget is now 45 percent lower in real terms than it was in 1984. Altogether it represents 1.3 percent of federal spending." He voted against Senate bill S.908 that would force reductions in U.S. assessed contributions to international organizations and peacekeeping over the next four years, saying "it's not worthy of a country that claims the mantle of world leadership."

1995 also was the year the League went to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. The U.S. made certain commitments at the conference, and we all should monitor how those commitments are carried out. They include:

  • a White House Council on Women to plan for the effective U.S. implementation of the Platform for Action

  • a Department of Justice six-year, $1.6 billion initiative to fight domestic violence and other crimes against women

  • a campaign led by the Department of Health and Human Services against threats to the health and security of women--promoting healthy behavior, increasing awareness about AIDS, discouraging the use of cigarettes and striving to win the battle against breast cancer

  • a firm commitment to the reproductive health rights gains made in the Cairo Population Conference

  • new steps by the Department of the Treasury to promote access to financial credit for women (in particular promoting micro-enterprises)

  • an effort led by the Agency for International Development to promote and recognize the vital role of women in development--including important initiatives to increase women's participation in political processes and to promote the enforcement of women's legal rights

  • a commitment by the people and government of the United States to speak out openly and without hesitation on behalf of the human rights of all people.

Finally, the continued and growing involvement and empowerment of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as the League, at UN conferences has brought about changes in the text of conference documents that identify the international community's consensus for positive change in the areas of environment, human rights, social development, population and the status of women. The courage of these citizens to work together to effect change reflects the League's own history and commitment to informed citizen participation in the political process. The LWV will continue to work to strengthen NGO participation in the UN system. The League is affiliated with the UN Department of Public Information, which is dedicated to information sharing. We continue to work with our NGO colleagues at the UN and to share information with all League members so that you can be informed and active participants on UN concerns.

Margery Cohen
U.N. Observor

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