Interesting news has come out of the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee this week, and it’s not every day that you can say that!  The Republican dominated committee has voted to support a bill that eliminates the funding that was requested by President Obama for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).  The amount that has been cut by the committee is $50million (I assume per annum?) and has only recently been restored by Obama after the Bush administration – typically Republican administrations have withheld funds from the group.  The Committee divided along party lines and voted 23-17 in favour of the cut.

The reasons for the move given by the Committee are two-fold.  First, an economic argument:

“Why, when Americans face a struggling economy, skyrocketing deficits and crushing debt should our taxpayer dollars got to an organization that supports coercive abortion and is flush with cash?” asked Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the committee. She said the U.N. Population Fund has unspent funds of some $500 million.

While $50million a year is nothing when compared to the size of the US’ debt, I suppose that every little bit cut from the budget helps, especially when the funding appears to be going to a UN organisation that isn’t spending all its money anyway.

However, the second, and more prominent, reason is a moral one.  The Committee was critical of the UNPFA’s efforts in China, with its one child policy and reports of human rights abuses, forced sterilisations and abortions.  This was rationale was spelt out by the bill’s introducer and was reported by the Huffington Post:

“Whether or not you believe the U.S. should be borrowing money from China to fund U.N. projects in China, U.S. taxpayers should not be forced to fund programs that violate provisions of the ‘Kemp-Kasten’ amendment, which bans U.S. aid to organizations involved in the management of coercive family planning programs,” Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), who introduced the bill, said in a statement. “If the Chinese wish to do such things, they should not expect funding from the United States taxpayer.”

See further on these abuses here.  Democrats on the Committee argued that the UNPFA should not be punished for the practises of China.  While the UNFPA itself argues that no American money is sent to China and that it does not have any involvement in China’s one-child policy.  It seems that despite this, the Committee does not want to fund an organisation at all that is involved in China, notwithstanding that the money does not actually get spent in China (and is there really any difference in that $50 million being used elsewhere, thus freeing up $50 million to be used in China?)

This move can also be seen as part of a wider limitation on this type of funding by US lawmakers:

“The companion foreign aid spending bill also prohibits funds to the organization and caps money for population and reproductive health services at $461 million, which was what the level of spending in fiscal year 2008.”

As the Huffington Post reports:

“The bill is part of a larger effort among House Republicans to reduce U.S. funding for family planning, both domestically and abroad. The Foreign Affairs Committee voted earlier this year to reinstate the “global gag rule,” which blocks all U.S. funding — including money for HIV/AIDS prevention, water and sanitation projects, child survival and education — to international health organizations that provide abortions or counsel women on where they could safely have one.”

Finally, the undercurrent to this move seems to be the dissatisfaction with the UN as a whole that is held by some members of the US government. This undercurrent may make headlines if the same Committee decides whether to support legislation which would withhold or slash funds that the US spends on the UN.  This legislation is being promoted by Rep Ros-Lehtinen, who is:

“…a frequent critic of the U.N., [and who] says it is plagued by scandal, mismanagement and inaction, and is biased against the United States and Israel.”

Such a move by the US would certainly raise alarm bells in New York as the US provides 22% of the UN budget (or around $600 million).  We shall have to keep an eye on further developments…who said that Committee work at the Capitol wasn’t fun??  Have a great weekend everyone, sorry to any readers from Argentina, but: GO NEW ZEALAND ON SUNDAY!

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...