Senate passes bill to cut funds to U.N. Human Rights Council

UNITED NATIONS &

The United States would cut off funding to the U.N. Human Rights Council under a bill passed by the Senate, the latest action by Washington to target an agency it has harshly criticized since its creation last year.




Late Thursday, the U.S. Senate passed a foreign operations appropriations bill for 2008 with an amendment stating that none of the U.S. contributions to the United Nations would be made available to the council. The House passed an appropriations bill with a similar amendment in June.




The council was created in March 2006 to replace the widely discredited and highly politicized Human Rights Commission, but it has been criticized for failing to change many of the commission's practices, including putting more emphasis on Israel than on any other country.




The United States opted against council membership because of what it saw as flaws in the makeup of the body. It has sat on the sidelines as an observer.




Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, who introduced the amendment in the Senate, called the rights council a platform for "shielding human rights-violating regimes from scrutiny," such as Myanmar and North Korea, while "launching spiteful attacks against Israel."




Coleman has acknowledged the amendment is more about symbolism than in halting the council's operations. The U.S. share of the council budget is only around $3 million, and the bill would allow the president to ignore the funding cut if he deemed it wasn't in the national interest.




Assistant Secretary of State Kristen Silverberg told a Senate panel in July that the council is funded out of the U.N.'s general budget and moneys are easily transferrable.




If the U.S. cuts off its contributions, she said, it is "unlikely to actually decrease the amount of resources available to the council."




John Bolton, the outspoken former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said that the bill sends a message separate from its financial impact.




"Congress needs to do more of this type of thing. De-funding is a way of showing dissatisfaction" with U.N. policy, he said.




Calls to the Human Rights Council's main offices in Geneva were not immediately returned.




Critics have said the European Union, with only seven members on the 47-seat council, is outnumbered by the powerful Asian and African blocs, each with 13 members. The Organization of the Islamic Conference, which leads criticism of Israel in the council, has 15 members.




Since its creation last year, the council has only criticized one country &

Israel, for its military actions in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon. Although it expressed concern for the situation in Darfur, the council refrained from explicitly criticizing the Sudanese government for its widely documented support of janjaweed militias in the region.

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