News Family

More Trick Than Treat: House GOP Threatens UNICEF, World’s Children

Mark Goldberg

A provision tucked into the United Nations Transparency, Accountability and Reform Act of 2011 would effectively end all American contributions to UNICEF. 

This article is cross-posted from our sister site, UN Dispatch.

Later today, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will consider a bill that basically guts American contributions to the UN.  The bill is championed by Chairwoman Ileana Ros Lehtinen and would shift the way the United States and all member states pay the UN from a dues payment system to a system of voluntary funding in which countries cherry pick the programs they’ll pay. If a voluntary funding system is not imposed by all member states, and there is almost no support for this switch even amongst American allies, the legislation forces the United States to reduce its funding for the UN by 50% (from about $500 million a year to $250 million a year)

Several UN agencies like UNICEF and the World Food Program are already funded on a voluntary basis. In other words, donors pay what they can, when they can. Presumably this legislation would not touch these popular UN agencies.  And after all, it would be deeply immoral and politically un-savvy to take food out of the mouths of starving children, right?

Or at least that’s what I thought until I read the fine print.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

In fact, there is provision tucked into the United Nations Transparency, Accountability and Reform Act of 2011 which would effectively end all American contributions to UNICEF.  Section 202 reads “no funds made available for use as a United States Contribution to any United Nations Entity may be obligated or expended if—(1) the intended United Nations Entity recipient has not provided to the Comptroller General within the preceding year a Transparency Certification. “

The bill defines a “transparency certificate” as a written affirmation that must be submitted by each UN agency or program every year to the U.S. Comptroller General ensuring that they will provide the General Accountability Office and Congress full, complete, and unfettered access to all oversight documents upon request. If the certificate is not provided, funds are withheld.

The thing is, neither UNICEF, nor any UN agency would ever agree to such a provision.  Once you start privileging one country, other countries are going to want the same level of access and treatment. When that happens, UNICEF will have to create a whole new bureaucracy dedicated to responding to these requests from 190 governments around the world — money could probably be better directed toward schooling children in the Horn of Africa or providing Polio and Measles vaccines to kids in Afghanistan or Kenya. It is almost as if because Californians pay a greater percentage of federal income taxes, they should somehow get preferential treatment from the federal government.It just doesn’t work that way. And neither does the United Nations.

The Republicans know this. They also know that the rest of the world would oppose this kind of unilateral measure. Still, they are setting into motion a process that could lead to a funding crisis for UNICEF, the World Food Program and the World Health Organization.  Ultimately, the people who will suffer are poor, hungry and sick children, women and men around the world.

Go to UN Dispatch for an infographic examining the share of the US budget devoted to the UN and the amount of return on investment the US realizes from this.

News Abortion

Democrat: House GOP’s Fetal Tissue Panel Pushes ‘Dangerous Witch Hunt’

Nicole Knight Shine

Republicans' ongoing investigations into fetal tissue research are “reminiscent of Sen. Joe McCarthy’s abusive tactics," Rep. Jan Schakowsky said.

Any illusion that the first hearing of the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives wasn’t a shrouded partisan attack on abortion rights vanished in the first minutes of the nearly four-hour hearing on Wednesday.

The ostensible aim of the hearing, called “Bioethics and Fetal Tissue,” was to hear testimony of tissue-research scientists and bioethics experts on the subject of fetal tissue research. Instead, House Republicans took turns dissecting reproductive rights amid testimony comparing fetal tissue research to the horrific experiments of Nazi Josef Mengele. Democrats called for the panel to disband, with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) saying the investigation was “a partisan and dangerous witch hunt.”

House GOP leaders last summer established the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, made up of eight Republicans and six Democrats, to investigate claims that abortion providers and firms “sell baby body parts.” The effort was part of a flurry of state and federal investigations into allegations of illegal fetal tissue sales by Planned Parenthood.

Federal and state GOP legislators launched investigations into Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue program after an anti-choice front group, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), released a series of widely discredited smear videos edited to make it appear the health-care organization was breaking the law. CMP officials have worked closely with Republican lawmakers to defund Planned Parenthood.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Schakowsky, the minority leader, was quick to point out that multiple investigations have found no evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood; 12 states so far have cleared the health-care provider.

Partisan rhetoric, Schakowsky said, had created a climate of violence.

“We live in a world where researchers who use fetal tissue are compared to Nazi war criminals and extremists have tried to burn clinics to the ground,” Schakowsky said.

Schakowsky blasted Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), chair of the House panel, for subpoenaing the names of patients, medical students, and clinic personnel performing abortions or conducting fetal tissue research, calling it “reminiscent of Sen. Joe McCarthy’s abusive tactics.”

“There is no apparent reason for this other than harassment and intimidation,” Schakowsky said.

Blackburn said the CMP footage “revealed that something very troubling is going on related to fetal tissue and research.”

During the hearing, a motion by panel member Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) to quash Blackburn’s subpoenas failed in a party-line vote of 8 to 6.

Representatives on the panel took turns questioning six people who had been called to testify. Appearing first were R. Alta Charo, the Warren P. Knowles professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison; Dr. Gerard Kevin Donovan, senior clinical scholar at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University; and Paige Comstock Cunningham, executive director of the Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity and the former head of the anti-choice group Americans United for Life (AUL).

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) drilled into those who came to testify, asking them to answer quick yes-or-no questions about their biases and expertise. Both Cunningham and Donovan admitted they oppose abortion rights, support bans on fetal tissue research from abortion, and are not research scientists.

DeGette then focused on Donovan, asking him about comments linking abortion care to the Tuskegee syphilis experiments and Josef Mengele, the infamous Nazi doctor of Auschwitz.

“It was you who talked about the Tuskegee and the Mengele experiments,” DeGette said. “Do you … make fetal tissue donations from abortion equal to those experiments?”

“I think that we need to be very careful,” Donovan said.

DeGette pressed him for an answer, “Do you think they’re equal, yes or no? Yes or no?”

“Maybe,” Donovan said.

Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) asked Charo to confirm that fetal tissue research in this country must adhere to strict legal and ethical guidelines, which Charo did.

DelBene continued, “And professor do you think it’s ethical to use ideology about women’s rights to shape the rules that guide scientific research, and why or why not?”

“I’m very, very unhappy at seeing a debate around abortion turn into a debate around scientific research,” Charo said. “That’s not to say that I’m happy about the debate about abortion either, because I find it really offensive to imagine that women are incapable about making their own decisions about whether to have an abortion and whether or not to donate the tissue.”

Halfway through the hearing, the panel called on its second round of experts: Larry Goldstein, the distinguished professor of cellular and molecular medicine at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and director of the UC San Diego Stem Cell Program; Patrick Lee, the director of the Center for Bioethics at Franciscan University of Steubenville; and Kathleen M. Schmainda, professor of radiology and biophysics at the Center for Imaging Research at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Responding to a question about the potential scientific toll of restricting fetal tissue research, Goldstein said “research into deadly disease will slow down.”

Goldstein recalled testifying at a fetal tissue research hearing with Christopher Reeve, the late actor and stem-cell research advocate who was paralyzed after suffering a spinal cord injury. Reeve died after going into a coma following treatment of an infected pressure wound.

“And the fact was, time was at stake,” Goldstein said. “He unfortunately didn’t live long enough to see us put an appropriate fetal neural stem cell type into clinical trial.”

As the hours dragged on, lawmakers’ questions drifted far afield of the subject of fetal tissue research.

House Republicans’ questions ran the gamut of anti-choice fear-mongering: Do developing brains of “minors” render them capable of consenting to abortion care? Should terminated fetuses be cremated or buried?

Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-IN) rushed to the defense of David Daleiden, who faces felony charges for his role in CMP’s smear videos targeting Planned Parenthood. Bucshon said: “I would just remind everyone in the crowd that charges and indictments don’t mean guilt.”

Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) said she’d recently heard reports of a fetus that survived an abortion procedure in Arizona. She asked the panel whether abortion clinics should be equipped with neonatal care units.

Lee and Schmainda, both opposed to abortion care and fetal tissue research from the procedure, said yes. Goldstein declined to answer the question, saying he’s not an expert in abortion facility requirements.

Black, a former nurse, called for Congress to create a new “blue ribbon commission” to study fetal tissue research.

A similar commission during the Reagan era unanimously approved the use of fetal tissue research from abortion.

CORRECTION: A version of this article misstated Christopher Reeve’s cause of death.

Analysis Human Rights

Advocates Wary of President Obama’s New Refugee Resettlement Program

Tina Vasquez

Organizations like the Women’s Refugee Commission seem to have conflicting feelings about President Obama’s new program, saying they’re pleased to see the administration recognize that Central Americans seeking safety in the United States is a refugee situation, but that the program does not negate the United States' other responsibilities.

In response to another recent surge of Central American migrants at the U.S. border, the Obama administration announced a refugee resettlement program last week in collaboration with the United Nations, which will screen migrants fleeing violence in Central America and assist in setting up processing centers in Latin American countries.

The program is intended to, as the New York Times reported, “head off” migrants fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, which represent the “Northern Triangle” countries experiencing extreme poverty and dramatic increases in gang-related violence. Advocates believe the government is acting in anticipation of more asylum seekers, in part because of figures released by authorities in El Salvador that revealed a 70 percent spike in violent deaths in 2015. Historically, when violence has escalated in the Northern Triangle countries, the United States has seen a dramatic increase in the number of asylum seekers appearing at the border, as was the case during the 2014 “migrant crisis.” Most of the migrants are women and their young children who have “run for their lives.”

A state department official told Rewire in an email that the administration’s initiative is an expansion of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program intended to help “vulnerable families and individuals from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras,” offering them “a safe and legal alternative to the dangerous journey many migrants are taking, making them easy prey for human smugglers who have no interest but their own profits.”

An underlying goal of the program, it seems, is to divert migrants to nearby countries before they make it to the United States. It is unclear what countries the temporary processing centers will be located in and if they will be camps or “less restrictive shelters.”

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

The Obama administration said the refugee program has been in the works for weeks and is not a response to the public outcries from both politicians and advocates regarding the ongoing raids targeting Central American asylum seekers.

It will be up to the United Nations to determine if migrants are eligible for refugee status. Obama administration officials told the New York Times that as many as 9,000 migrants each year could eventually settle in the United States, though some refugees would also be sent to other countries.

Advocates have already expressed concern the program is an attempt to justify the raids. When speaking during a press call, Wendy Young, the president of Kids in Need of Defense, said it is targeting the same population of peopleCentral American asylum seekers—who are treated as “refugees on the one hand and as wanted fugitives on the other,” ThinkProgress reported.

The state department official said the United States will partner with governments in Central America “to address the underlying conditions that drive migration,” with the U.S. Congress agreeing to invest up to $750 million in Central America and committing “to support the efforts of the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to reverse endemic violence and poverty, promote economic prosperity, crack down on criminal networks, and strengthen good governance and the rule of law.”

In the United States’ strategy for engagement in Central America, which is vague at best, there is no mention of how the country contributed to the conditions in the Northern Triangle. This is a concern for advocates, who are wondering just how effective another program purporting to help Central American migrants will actually be, given that others have put them in more danger.

Between October 2013 and June 2014, 50,000 unaccompanied Central American children arrived at the U.S. border. The White House declared the influx an “urgent humanitarian situation.” In response, President Obama met with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto “to develop concrete proposals to address the root causes of unlawful migration from Central America,” according to the White House statement. Just three weeks later, Peña Nieto announced a new initiative, Programa Frontera Sur (or the South Border Program).

As In These Times reported, Mexico’s Programa Frontera Sur did not stop Central Americans from taking the already unsafe journey to reach the United States. Rather, it forced them to find increasingly dangerous methods. Essentially, the program just cleared trains of migrants and, advocates say, it is just one of a number of recent policies out of Mexico “funded or tacitly endorsed by the United States” that has failed to address the growing humanitarian crisis.

In their quest to escape violence, Central American asylum seekers are routinely raped, assaulted, extorted, and abducted as they cross Mexico for the United States, and programs like Programa Frontera Sur have only exacerbated these conditions, advocates say.

There’s also the issue of how many people could benefit from President Obama’s new refugee resettlement program. His administration claims upwards of 9,000, but if previous, similar programs are any indication, it could be only dozens.

During the summer of 2014, during the height of the border crisis, the federal government set up the Central American Minors (CAM) Refugee/Parole Program to allow some children from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras to apply for refugee status through an in-country application process. As of October 2015, 4,600 children had applied to the program and according to Mother Jones, just 90 applicants had been interviewed so far by the Department of Homeland Security. Eleven of those interviewed have been conditionally approved for refugee resettlement in the United States and another 76 have received humanitarian parole. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, this category is “used sparingly to bring an otherwise inadmissible alien into the United States for a temporary period of time due to a compelling emergency.” All the while, 35,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border in 2015 and thousands more were picked up in Mexico.

Organizations like the Women’s Refugee Commission seem to have conflicting feelings about Obama’s new program, saying they’re pleased to see the administration recognize that Central Americans seeking safety in the United States is a refugee situation, but that the program does not negate the United States’ other responsibilities.

“The truth remains that those fleeing violence and persecution often lack the luxury of registering with authorities. Many will have no choice but to run and ask for protection when they reach the border,” the Women’s Refugee Commission said in a statement. “It is not illegal to cross international borders and request asylum. The presence of a formal refugee resettlement program does not negate our obligation to accept asylum-seekers at our borders.”