United States Loses Seat on United Nations Human Rights Panel

views updated

United States Loses Seaton United Nations Human Rights Panel

The Conflict

The United States, long an outspoken advocate of human rights in other countries, lost its seat on the United Nations Human Rights Commission, signaling tense relations between the United States and other UN member nations.


  • In the past decade, the United States has increasingly chosen to act unilaterally on matters of international concern.
  • After the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States has emerged as the only superpower, throwing off the balances of power that existed during the Cold War and causing concern among many member nations.
  • Within the United States, although polls show that a majority of the population supports the UN, there is a faction with strong representation in the U.S. Congress that distrusts the organization and seeks to lessen U.S. cooperation with member nations in international matters.


• Back dues owed by the United States to the United Nations have at times during the past decade exceeded $1 billion, creating hostility among other member nations.

On May 3, 2001, the United States failed to be reelected to its seat on the United Nations Human Rights Commission. This was the first time since 1947 that the United States had not been a member of this particular body within the United Nations (UN). The United States government expressed dismay and outrage over its expulsion from this commission.

What is so surprising about this turn of events is that it was America's friends and allies, not her adversaries, that led to her demise on the Human Rights Commission. Ironically, the Human Rights Commission currently has such new members as Sudan, Uganda, Sierra Leone, and Togo joining Syria, Algeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam as already existing members. As President George W. Bush's administration noted, these countries have been continually under criticism for violations of human rights within their borders. In contrast, the United States has never been the subject of scrutiny of the UN Human Rights Commission, except on the issue of the death penalty, which the UN opposes and which still exists in the United States.

Reaction from the U.S. Congress was swift and predictable. Bipartisan condemnations came from both the House and the Senate. Senators Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Joseph Biden (D-DE) and representatives Tom Lantos (D-CA) and Henry Hyde (R-IL) all made threats to withhold American dues to the United Nations unless the situation was rectified. And, in some far corners of American society there emanated a renewed cry for the United States to end its membership within the United Nations permanently.

How did this seemingly strange set of circumstances arise? The United States has been one of the staunchest proponents of human rights in the post-World War II era. How did it come to be replaced by states that have abysmal records in promoting human rights? The answer lies in the evolution of American involvement in the United Nations since its inception in 1945. The United States, while being a founding member of the United Nations and a permanent member of the Security Council, has never had a rosy relationship with the UN leadership.

As the 1990s progressed, support within the United States for participation in the United Nations decreased. Many politicians, with the ultra-conservative Senator Jesse Helms at the forefront, had become gravely concerned that the United Nations was becoming a quasi-sovereign entity rather than an organization comprised of sovereign states. Fears of UN control of American laws, particularly in the area of civil-military relations, and the use of American troops under UN command, became commonly expressed concerns. Many argued that the United Nations had over-stepped its boundaries in its promotion of birth control policies, environmental standards, and the use of military forces abroad to enforce peace-keeping.

This distrust of the UN by certain groups in American society was not a new phenomenon. Throughout the Cold War many groups within the United States had viewed the UN as a liberal organization with socialist tendencies, bent upon global domination. During the Democratic administration of President Bill Clinton, fringe groups reacted strongly to incidents in which the government seemed to interfere in individual freedoms. Two key events in the early 1990s—the Ruby Ridge incident in northern Idaho in 1992, a week-long standoff between white supremacist Randy Weaver and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents that ended when an FBI sniper shot and killed Weaver's wife, and the tragedy at Waco, Texas, in 1993, in which a 51-day standoff between the FBI and a group known as the Branch Davidians ended in a fire that killed 85 men, women, and children—triggered anti-government, anti-tax, and particularly anti-United Nations sentiments throughout U.S. fringe groups. The advent of the Internet made it easier for such groups to spread their beliefs.

In the late 1990s and continuing into the beginning of the twenty-first century, conflict grew between the United States and the UN over the failure of the United States to pay its dues to the UN. The unwillingness of the United States to shoulder its financial burden within the United Nations was just one problem. The United States' increased willingness to act unilaterally angered many of America's friends and allies. Hence, they retaliated in the only manner they could, and that was to vote the United States off of a key commission within the United Nations.

Historical Background

If we are to understand the current state of relations between the United States and the United Nations, we need to understand the role the United States has played in helping establish international cooperative ventures since the end of the World War I (1914-18). The devastation of both world wars caused world leaders to search for means to avoid further destruction and horror.

The League of Nations

The roots of the modern-day United Nations can be found in the short-lived League of Nations that came into existence after the Treaty of Versailles ended World War I. The League of Nations was formed in 1920, with its first meeting taking place in November in Geneva, Switzerland. The League was founded with the goal of preventing another global conflict like World War I, which had just ravaged the globe. The League of Nations was to a great extent the brainchild of President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) of the United States. The core principles of the League were to promote peaceful cooperation amongst its members and to guarantee collective security for the countries that belonged to the League. Collective security in this regard refers to a system in which member countries would agree to defend any member nation that is threatened by foreign aggression.

Given the significant American involvement in designing the League's charter, it is surprising to note that the United States never joined the League of Nations. President Wilson had neglected to examine the domestic political environment in the United States at the time. The Senate was unhappy with Article X of the League's Covenant, which promoted the idea of collective security. Hence the United States never became a member of the League of Nations, although its diplomats often participated in League meetings in an unofficial capacity. Lack of American involvement was viewed by many during the interwar period as one of the main reasons why the League was so ineffective in promoting world peace and cooperation.

Despite the absence of the United States as a member, the League did have some limited successes during its existence. It was instrumental in curbing international drug trafficking, and it was moderately successful in assisting former colonies' transitions into statehood, particularly those that had been dominated by Turkey prior to World War I. Even in the area of peacekeeping, the League witnessed some moderate success, but for the most part the great powers attended to their own affairs without League involvement.

Due to its lack of internal cohesion and its inability to prevent German aggression after the rise to power of Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), the League of Nations became quite ineffective during the latter part of the 1930s. In 1946 it had dropped from a one-time high as a league of 63 member nations to become a mere shell. It voted itself out of existence in 1946 and much of its property and assets were transferred to the newly formed United Nations.

The Formation of the United Nations

As World War II (1939-45) was winding to a close, representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco at the United Nations Conference on International Organization. This meeting, which lasted from April 25 to June 26, 1945, established the United Nations. The delegates deliberated on the basis of proposals worked out by representatives of China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States at the Dum-barton Oaks conference in Washington DC in August-October 1944. At this previous meeting it was generally acknowledged that the war would soon be over, with Germany and Japan defeated. There was a strong belief among the states that a new order needed to be devised to prevent a third major conflict on the scale of both world wars. It was also acknowledged that the United States was the only major state that could help lead the world, both economically and in terms of security, in the coming years. The Dumbarton Oaks conference called for a new security organization that built upon the collective security components of the League of Nations, but with more involvement by the great powers, especially the United States.

The representatives of the 50 countries signed the United Nations Charter on June 26, 1945. Poland, which was not represented at the conference, signed it later and became one of the original 51 member states. The United Nations officially came into existence on October 24, 1945, when the charter was ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and by a majority of other signatories.

Goals of the United Nations

The United Nations maintained the focus and emphasis that the earlier, ill-fated League of Nations had placed on collective security, and required that when states became members of the United Nations, they agreed to accept the obligations of the UN charter, a treaty that sets out basic principles of international relations. According to this document, the UN has several purposes. It strives to maintain international peace and security; it seeks to develop friendly relations among nations, particularly with regard to promoting international cooperation and respect for human rights; it serves as a forum where states can come together to air their grievances and attempt to solve their differences without resorting to violence. It should be noted that members of the United Nations are sovereign states. The United Nations is not a world government and it does not make laws. It does, however, provide the means to help resolve international conflict and formulate policies on matters affecting all of us.

Of the goals noted above, two are of special importance to the United Nations, and have benefited largely from American leadership in the post-1945 era. The central purpose of the United Nations is the preservation of world peace. Under the UN charter, member states agree to settle disputes by peaceful means and refrain from threatening or using force against other states. Over the years, the UN has played a major role in helping defuse international crises and in resolving a variety of international conflicts. It has undertaken many operations involving peacemaking, peace-keeping, and humanitarian assistance. It has worked to prevent conflicts from breaking out. And in post-conflict situations, it has increasingly undertaken coordinated action to address the root causes of war and to lay the foundation for a durable peace.

UN efforts have been quite effective in international crisis situations. Most people are familiar with UN involvement in the Korean War in 1950, when the Security Council called for member intervention to halt North Korean aggression against South Korea and passed a resolution authorizing the use of force against the North Korean regime. However, many are unaware that the UN was quite helpful in negotiating an end to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Throughout the post-World War II era, the UN has been involved in the Middle East peace process and was deeply involved in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, assisting in ending that conflict before it became more widespread. In 1988, a UN-sponsored peace settlement ended the Iran-Iraq war, and in the following year UN-sponsored negotiations led to the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. In the 1990s the UN was instrumental in liberating Kuwait through the Gulf War, and it played a major role in ending civil wars in Cambodia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mozambique, restoring the democratically elected government in Haiti, and resolving or containing conflict in various other countries. In the Gulf War of 1991 the UN acted as it had 40 years previously in Korea, by calling for troops and passing resolutions condemning Iraqi aggression against the Kuwaiti people. In the other conflicts, the UN worked as a mediator, providing assistance in ending the civil conflicts in ravaged states.

When it comes to peacekeeping and international security, the UN Security Council sets up the operations and defines their scope and mandate. Most operations involve military duties, such as observing a ceasefire or establishing a buffer zone while negotiators seek a long-term solution. Others may require civilian police or incorporate civilian personnel who help organize elections or monitor human rights. Some operations, like the one in Macedonia, were initially deployed as a means to help prevent the outbreak of hostilities. Operations have also been set up to monitor peace agreements in cooperation with the peacekeeping forces of regional organizations.

Since the UN deployed its first peacekeepers in 1948, some 118 countries have voluntarily provided more than 750,000 military and civilian police personnel. They have served, along with thousands of civilians, in 54 peacekeeping operations. In 2001, some 35,400 military and civilian police personnel were deployed in 15 UN sponsored operations.

Human Rights at the United Nations

The other major concern that the United Nations pursues is the promotion of human rights around the world. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was put forth by the UN General Assembly in 1948. What the Declaration does is set out basic rights and freedoms to which all women and men are entitled. These rights include the right to life, liberty, and nationality, to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, to work, to education, and to participation in government. These rights are legally binding by virtue of two international covenants, and most member states of the United Nations are parties to these two documents. One covenant deals with economic, social, and cultural rights and the other with civil and political rights. Together with the declaration, they constitute the International Bill of Human Rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has established the foundation for more than 80 conventions and declarations on human rights, including conventions to eliminate racial discrimination and discrimination against women; support the rights of the child; examine the status of refugees; and prevent genocide. Its declarations have included concerns such as self-determination, enforced disappearances, and the right to development. With the standards-setting work nearly complete, the UN is shifting the emphasis of its human rights work to the implementation of human rights laws.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights coordinates all UN human rights activities, works with governments to improve their observance of human rights, seeks to prevent violations, and investigates abuses. The UN Commission on Human Rights, an intergovernmental body, holds public meetings to review the human rights performance of states. It also appoints independent experts—"special rapporteurs"—to report on specific human rights abuses or to examine human rights in specific countries.

UN human rights bodies are involved in early warning and conflict prevention as well as in efforts to address root causes of conflict. A number of UN peacekeeping operations have a human rights component. In all, UN human rights field activities are currently being carried out in 27 countries or territories. Promoting respect for human rights has become increasingly important to UN programs that promote development around the globe. In particular, the right to development is seen as part of a dynamic process that integrates all civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights, by which the well-being of all individuals in a society is improved.

Organization of the United Nations

In order to function and obtain its goals of international peace and cooperation, the United Nations has six main organs to manage and shape its activities. Five of them, the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, and the Secretariat, are based at UN Headquarters in New York. The sixth body, the International Court of Justice, is located at The Hague, the Netherlands.

Of particular interest for the human rights issue and for everyday management of the United Nations are the General Assembly and the Security Council. All UN member states are represented in the General Assembly, as a kind of parliament of nations that meets to consider the world's most pressing problems. Each member state has one vote in the General Assembly. Decisions on matters such as international peace and security, admitting new members, the UN budget, and the budget for peacekeeping, are decided by a two-thirds majority. Other, more routine matters are decided by simple majority. In recent years, especially after the end of the Cold War, great effort has been taken to reach decisions through consensus and compromise, rather than by holding formal votes.

As examples of what the General Assembly deals with on a regular basis, examine its 2000-2001 session. During this time the General Assembly dealt with more than 170 different topics, including globalization, nuclear disarmament, development, protection of the environment, and consolidation of new democracies. It should be noted that while the General Assembly represents world opinion and indicates current trends, it cannot force any member state to take action against its will.

When it comes to important decisions, much of the decision-making process reverts to the smaller body of the Security Council. For example, the Security Council makes recommendations to the General Assembly on the appointment of a new Secretary-General (the person who heads the United Nations as a whole) and on the admission of new members to the UN.

While the General Assembly has jurisdiction over routine matters facing the UN, the UN charter gives the Security Council primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. The Council may convene at any time, day or night, whenever peace is threatened. Under the charter, all member states are obligated to carry out the Security Council's decisions. Of course, it should be noted that there exists no mechanism to force member states to accede to Security Council Resolutions.

There are 15 members on the Security Council, with China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States being permanent members. The other 10 are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms. Decisions made by the Security Council require nine affirmative votes. Except in votes on procedural questions, a decision cannot be taken if there is a "no" vote, or veto, by any permanent member. Hence, through much of the Cold War the Security Council was often ineffective due to superpower vetoes. The one major exception, as discussed below, is the UN resolution to aid South Korea in the Korean War, during which the Soviet Union was boycotting the Security Council due to issues over the status of divided Berlin and the exclusion of Communist China from UN membership.

When the Security Council encounters a threat to international peace, it initially examines means by which the dispute can be settled peacefully. It may suggest principles for a settlement or undertake mediation. In the event of fighting, the Security Council will attempt to arrange a cease-fire. It may send a peacekeeping mission to help the parties maintain a truce and to keep opposing forces apart. It should be noted, however, that any peacekeeping mission must be requested by the warring factions. The UN has no power to send troops abroad without consent of its members, and it cannot send peacekeeping forces without explicit permission from the combatants.

The Security Council can take measures to enforce its decisions. It can impose economic sanctions or order an arms embargo. On rare occasions, the Security Council has authorized member states to use "all necessary means," including collective military action, to see that its decisions are carried out. (It again should be noted that the final decision made by the Security Council is not binding on the remaining members of the United Nations. States cannot be forced to commit troops to UN missions abroad.) The final decision on whether force should be used or not is voted upon in the General Assembly, and final commitments are at the discretion of the member states.

United States Relations within the United Nations

As a founder of the United Nations and a permanent member of the Security Council, the United States has played a major role in the United Nations and its activities since 1945. The United States has been a prime mover in UN actions, from the interventions in Korea and Kuwait, to the promotion of human rights and international peacekeeping around the globe, to encouraging economic assistance to struggling countries. However, American relations with the UN have not always been entirely friendly. As the years have passed, many American political leaders have become disgruntled with the UN, viewing it as encroaching on American sovereignty. In the remainder of this section, American relations with the rest of the United Nations are examined as they progressed decade by decade, with an emphasis on the emerging tensions that culminated in the May 3, 2001, decision to exclude the United States from the human rights panel.

The 1950s

In the 1950s, as through much of the Cold War, relations within the United Nations were dominated by the superpower rivalry. With the United States and the Soviet Union both permanent members of the Security Council, their ideological differences spilled over into the UN as well. East versus West scenarios became familiar voting patterns within the UN General Assembly, as states tended to vote with their superpower patrons and allies rather than acting out of their own volition.

The first major military action of the post-World War II era occurred when North Korea launched an invasion of South Korea in June 1950, and South Korea quickly appealed to the UN for help. The Security Council voted to send troops from member states to assist the South Koreans, and under American leadership the United Nations embarked upon its first military intervention. The conflict ended in 1953 with an armistice that holds to this day.

In 1956 a crisis developed in the Middle East between Israel and its Arab adversaries, and both superpowers, the Soviets and the Americans, became involved as they helped the UN moderate the Suez Crisis. Again the UN prevailed in restoring peace to the region.

In the 1950s the popularity of the UN was quite high in the United States. Most citizens supported UN ideals of peacekeeping and its attempt to solve conflicts by nonviolent means. With such a short time between the end of World War II and the start of the Korean War, much of the world's population was highly motivated to see the international peacekeeping ideal become a reality. It seemed only natural that the United States, which came out of World War II still-powerful, would assume a major share of the responsibility for getting the UN started and functioning. And, with the exception of the Soviet Union, most members of the UN were willing to allow the United States to play a leading role in UN actions.

The 1960s

The decade of the 1960s witnessed decolonization on a major scale around the world, and the first use of UN peacekeeping forces in Cyprus, where conflict between Greek and Turkish Cypriots raged. The UN during this time period was largely concerned with issues of human rights and assisting former colonies in their transitions to independence. With its concern for promoting peace in the international arena, the United Nations provided a forum for discussions and debates on various issues relating to weapons and armaments and their spread in the international system. The United States provided support and assistance in all of this, as well as being a critical actor in developing various arms control agreements, culminating in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968.

However, cracks were beginning to appear in global support of the United States as a dominant power. Many countries, particularly in the Third World, were becoming increasingly wary of American involvement in Vietnam and its support of non-democratic regimes.

The 1970s and 1980s

The next twenty years saw a remarkable change in the attitudes of other countries toward the United States, and these attitude changes were reflected at the United Nations. American involvement in Vietnam had never found much approval worldwide, and its lack of commitment to the promotion of human rights in many of the countries it supported against communism angered many other members.

As an example, the United States was quite supportive of dictatorships within Latin America, notably in Chile and Argentina, where human rights abuses were rampant. But since these countries were opposed to communism, the United States turned a blind eye to the violations that took place within them. Many UN members took the United States to task on this, stating that it was hypocritical to preach human rights and link them to issues such as trade, while still interacting with abusive dictatorships.

During the Ronald Reagan and first George Bush administrations, American foreign policy focused almost exclusively on combating Soviet influence around the world. Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, made it abundantly clear during her tenure under the Reagan administration that the United States would not conform to anyone else's standards. Kirkpatrick routinely maintained that the United States was not bound by any UN resolution that it did not favor. It was under her tenure that the United States began to go into arrears with its debt to the UN.

The 1990s

Times changed dramatically in the early 1990s. The collapse of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe in 1989 led to a major change in how the superpowers dealt with one another. This was coupled with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 and the Gulf War in 1991. The UN Security Council authorized the removal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait, and the United States built a military coalition to drive Saddam Hussein from Kuwaiti territory. This American leadership led many states to believe that the United States was ready for a new role in the international arena. President George Bush proclaimed a "New World Order," and many states felt that a kinder, friendlier relationship between the UN and the United States was in order.

In spite of American success in the Gulf War, many states around the world were becoming increasingly agitated with American behavior. There was widespread condemnation of American actions on human rights, for example. The United States continually traded with China, which had a horrible human rights record, but consistently scolded other states for not behaving in more proper fashion.

Recent History and the Future

If we examine the last five years of the 1990s and the beginning of the twenty-first century, we see the culmination of years of frustration and disagreement between the United States and the United Nations come to a head. In 1996 the UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali was forced out of office. During Boutros-Ghali's tenure at the head of the UN, the number of UN peacekeeping missions greatly increased, with missions in Cambodia, Somalia, Rwanda, and Bosnia. The missions were complicated and controversial, with varied results. Boutros-Ghali was particularly criticized for the lack of force used by the UN in Bosnia. Beyond this, American politicians charged the UN with corruption. In fact, in the 1996 presidential campaign, Republican Robert Dole ran on a platform of opposition to allowing U.S. soldiers fight under Boutros-Ghali and the UN. Finally, when Boutros-Ghali sought a second term, the Clinton administration said it would veto his nomination in the Security Council.

The Secretary-General quipped after leaving his post that he would now have more time for flying black helicopters, imposing global taxes, and writing laws for the entire world. He was satirizing the image held by a segment of the American population who viewed the United Nations as a global government bent on eradicating national sovereignty worldwide. These beliefs, while quite far-fetched, resonated among numerous politicians in Washington DC.

When the 1994 midterm elections were held, the Republican Party emerged in control of the U.S. House and Senate for the first time in over 20 years. Many members of the Republican Party, especially Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, were quite critical of President Clinton's policy of aggressive multilaterilism in regard to the United Nations. These politicians were very suspicious of UN activities, particularly when it came to having American soldiers serve under UN auspices on peacekeeping missions.

Starting in 1996, and continuing until 1999, the U.S. Senate refused to pay the membership dues that the United States owed to the United Nations. By the time Boutros-Ghali left office, the United States owed $1 billion. But a faction in Congress was against paying it. There was fear that the "New World Order" as espoused by President George Bush five years earlier was granting too much power to the United Nations. Senator Helms was increasingly vocal about reforming the UN to conform to American interests and status. If the UN would not conform, Helms advocated a U.S. withdrawal from the United Nations.

After being threatened with the loss of its vote in the General Assembly, the United States began to pay its back dues in 1999. And, despite the rhetoric of many of the political leaders in the United States, there was a fair amount of public support for the UN and its policies. A poll conducted by Zogby in April 1999 found that 70 percent of Americans surveyed had a favorable opinion of the United Nations, and 61 percent believed that the United States should pay its back dues to the UN.

In light of all this public support for the United Nations among the American public, why is there so much friction between the United States and the UN? The answer lies in the changing political landscape of international politics as we enter the twenty-first century. The United States is currently the sole superpower, and has begun to experiment with a lessening of its international commitments. In 1999, for example, the United States refused to (re)ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on nuclear weapons, and has begun to pursue the development of a national missile defense system. The desire of the United States to act unilaterally in regard to security issues has been building over the past decade. This specter of American isolationism has many American allies worried. When this is coupled with American refusal to support international environmental treaties like the Kyoto Protocol, the worldwide effort to curb climate-changing emissions, there is bound to be some backlash.

The United States learned on May 3, 2001, that it had alienated many of its friends and allies. Much of this can be attributed to the United States's desire in the past decade to act in a more unilateral fashion on a variety of international issues. Its removal from the Commission on Human Rights was the only means by which many members of the United Nations were able to successfully express their displeasure over recent American actions on the global stage.

The world has changed in the last decade, with the collapse of the Soviet empire and the rise of nationalism around the globe, once firmly kept in check by the superpower rivalry. Voting blocs within the UN General Assembly are no longer centered around superpower influence, but around the interests of rich nations and poor nations.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has expressed an interest in the United States returning soon to the Human Rights Commission and hopes that the United States will stay actively engaged in UN activities. As long as the United States continues to search for unilateral solutions to global problems, it will be faced with criticism from friends and enemies alike. But if it returns to more cooperative behavior that marked its early years in the UN, then it will most likely see its stature rise again on the UN stage.


Diehl, Paul. International Peacekeeping. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.

Diehl, Paul, ed. The Politics of Global Governance: International Organizations in an Interdependent World. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2001.

Hook, Steven W., and John Spanier. American Foreign Policy Since World War II. 15th ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2000.

Ostrower, Gary. The United Nations and the United States.New York: Twayne Publishers, 1998.

Ruggie, John Gerad. "The United States and the United Nations: Toward a New Realism." International Organization 39, 2, 1985.

Russett, Bruce, ed. The Once and Future Security Council.New York: St. Martins Press, 1997.

United Nations Web Site. Available online at www.un.org(cited September 12, 2001).

Christopher Sprecher


1921 The League of Nations is formed.

1939 World War II begins.

1944 At the Dumbarton Oaks Conference, China, theSoviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States work out proposals that will form the basis of the United Nations.

1945 The United Nations is founded when representatives of 50 countries meet in San Francisco at the United Nations Conference on International Organization.

1948 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is put forth by the General Assembly, setting out basic rights and freedoms to which all women and men are entitled, including: the right to life, liberty, and nationality, to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, to work, to be educated, and to take part in government.

1950-53 In the Korean War, the United Nations calls for member intervention to halt North Korean aggression against South Korea and passes a resolution authorizing the use of force against the North Korean regime.

1962 The UN helps to negotiate an end to the CubanMissile Crisis.

1968 The United States provides support and leadership in the UN efforts to develop arms control agreements, culminating in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

1971 Communist China is admitted to the UnitedNations.

1990-1991 The United Nations helps negotiate theGulf War.

1995 UN peacekeeping forces are sent to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

1996-1999 The United States withholds UN dues, accumulating over a billion dollars in debt.

1996 The United States promises to veto the reelection of Boutros Boutros-Ghali as Secretary General, forcing him to step down.

1996 Kofi Annan becomes Secretary General of theUnited Nations.

May 3, 2001 The United States is removed from the UNHuman Rights Commission.

Senator Jesse Helms Delivers a Speech to the United Nations Security Council, January 20, 2000: An Excerpt

[Senator Helms has stated that the United States will pay its membership dues to the United Nations only if the UN agrees to reforms agreed upon by the Congress.]

In any event, Congress has written a check to the United Nations for $926 million, payable upon the implementation of previously agreed-upon common-sense reforms. Now the choice is up to the U.N. I suggest that if the U.N. were to reject this compromise, it would mark the beginning of the end of U.S. support for the United Nations.

I don't want that to happen. I want the American people to value a United Nations that recognizes and respects their interests, and for the United Nations to value the significant contributions of the American people. Let's be crystal clear and totally honest with each other: all of us want a more effective United Nations. But if the United Nations is to be "effective" it must be an institution that is needed by the great democratic powers of the world.

Most Americans do not regard the United Nations as an end in and of itself—they see it as just one part of America's diplomatic arsenal. To the extent that the U.N. is effective, the American people will support it. To the extent that it becomes ineffective—or worse, a burden—the American people will cast it aside.

The American people want the U.N. to serve the purpose for which it was designed: they want it to help sovereign states coordinate collective action by "coalitions of the willing," (where the political will for such action exists); they want it to provide a forum where diplomats can meet and keep open channels of communications in times of crisis; they want it to provide to the peoples of the world important services, such as peacekeeping, weapons inspections and humanitarian relief.

This is important work. It is the core of what the U.N. can offer to the United States and the world. If, in the coming century, the U.N. focuses on doing these core tasks well, it can thrive and will earn and deserve the support of the American people. But if the U.N. seeks to move beyond these core tasks, if it seeks to impose the U.N.'s power and authority over nation-states, I guarantee that the United Nations will meet stiff resistance from the American people.

As matters now stand, many Americans sense that the U.N. has greater ambitions than simply being an efficient deliverer of humanitarian aid, a more effective peacekeeper, a better weapons inspector, and a more effective tool of great power diplomacy. They see the U.N. aspiring to establish itself as the central authority of a new international order of global laws and global governance. This is an international order the American people will not countenance, I guarantee you.

The U.N. must respect national sovereignty. The U.N. serves nations-states, not the other way around. This principle is central to the legitimacy and ultimate survival of the United Nations, and it is a principle that must be protected.

"Address by Senator Jesse Helms, Chairman, U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, before the United Nations Security Council, January 20, 2000," Sovereignty International. Available online at http://www.sovereignty.net/center/helms.htm (cited September 5, 2001).

About this article

United States Loses Seat on United Nations Human Rights Panel

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article


United States Loses Seat on United Nations Human Rights Panel