The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has called for meetings this week in the Security Council on allegations of corruption and sex abuse in U.N. peacekeeping missions, reigniting a dispute between the world body's power players and a group of developing nations.
The Group of 77, which includes 132 mainly developing countries and China, is accusing Ambassador John Bolton of encroaching on the U.N. General Assembly's turf by holding meetings on the allegations in the Security Council, which has five permanent and 10 rotating members.
The Group of 77 maintains the allegations should be handled by the General Assembly, where its members constitute a strong majority.
The United States this month holds the rotating Security Council presidency, and Bolton is insisting on holding meetings Wednesday and Thursday on the allegations.
At the heart of the struggle is what Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Tuesday is the General Assembly's feeling "that its power and its influence is being diminished." The dispute comes at a crucial moment when the 60-year-old United Nations is debating major reforms and investigating new allegations of corruption.
Last week, two U.S. congressmen, Republican Henry Hyde of Illinois and Democrat Tom Lantos of California, accused the Group of 77 of trying to mask corruption and block attempts to overhaul the world body.
While some angry members of the group refuted the allegations and were outraged at the sharply worded letter, South African U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, whose country chairs the Group of 77, said Tuesday it would not respond because the group deals with governments — not legislative bodies.
Nonetheless, Kumalo read a statement at a press conference expressing the Group of 77's support for reform of the United Nations and stressing that "the voice of every member state must be heard and respected during the reform process irrespective of the contributions made to the budget of the organization."
He also told reporters "the notion that is implied in all these debates and letters, that somehow developing countries are tolerant to corruption, to theft, to fraud ... is very far from the truth."
The Security Council has become the dominant U.N. body because it deals with issues of peace and security and its five permanent members — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — have veto power. In the General Assembly, the 191 members each have one vote and there is no veto.
In the reform debate, Bolton has repeatedly stressed that the United States pays about 22 percent of the regular U.N. budget and 27 percent of the U.N. peacekeeping budget, and he has a responsibility to U.S. taxpayers to ensure that their money is spent wisely.
But Kumalo shot back Wednesday that even though three countries pay more than 50 percent of the budget combined and more than 100 combined pay less than 10 percent, the United Nations is an intergovernmental organization, not a corporation with A stock and B stock — "and we are all assessed on our ability to pay."
Under the U.N. Charter, the General Assembly is responsible for the U.N. budget and oversight of the operations of the U.N. Secretariat, which Annan heads.
The letter from Hyde and Lantos was a rebuttal to a Feb. 6 letter from Kumalo to Annan protesting the U.N.'s handling of an audit that alleged widespread corruption in contracts for U.N. peacekeeping missions worldwide. The audit was leaked to the media in mid-January, prompting U.N. Undersecretary-General Christopher Burnham, an American, to brief the press.
Kumalo said Tuesday the Group of 77 was upset because its members called for the audit and asked that it be given to the General Assembly. He said its members still haven't been briefed on it and Bolton has now called Wednesday's meeting to deal with the issue in the Security Council.
"That's encroachment," said Kumalo.
Bolton disagreed, saying the Security Council authorizes U.N. peacekeeping operations and has a right to hold meetings on abuses — as does the General Assembly.
"I think the Security Council is going to be the more likely body to take decisive action," Bolton added.
The U.N. corruption inquiry expanded last month to include more than 200 investigations and led to eight U.N. staff members being put on paid leave. Any criminal wrongdoing discovered in the inquiry will be turned over to federal prosecutors in New York.
The U.N. instituted a policy of zero tolerance of sex abuse and zero contact last year following an investigation that found U.N. peacekeepers in Congo had sex with Congolese women and girls. Sex abuse has been reported in peacekeeping missions from Bosnia and Kosovo to Cambodia, East Timor, West Africa and Congo.