MINNEAPOLIS -- December 8 -- A group of prominent Minnesota organizations and citizens sent a letter today to Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman criticizing his decision to call for the resignation of the United Nations' Secretary General Kofi Annan in connection with the Oil-for-Food Program.
The signatories wrote that they were "deeply troubled" by Senator Coleman's "extreme position" on Annan. Coleman has admitted that he has no evidence of wrongdoing or impropriety on the part of Annan.
"At this sensitive moment, we should be reinforcing the United Nations as a forum for furthering international security and human rights," said Barbara A. Frey, Human Rights Program, University of Minnesota, a signatory of the letter. "Unfortunately, Senator Coleman has chosen to burn bridges instead of build them, a reckless and ambitious act that puts us at risk as a nation."
"It's disappointing to see Senator Coleman publicly attack one of the world' s most respected leaders at a time when we are asking for greater UN involvement in places like Sudan and Iraq," said Mark Ritchie, President of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, who helped organize the letter. "Leaders from around the world, including Prime Minister Blair, have expressed their support for Annan in light of Coleman's comments. This letter shows that many Minnesotans also don't agree with him."
Prominent signatories to the letter to Coleman included:
- Arlen Erdahl, former U.S. Congressman from Minnesota.
- Barbara Frey, Director of the Human Rights Program at the University of Minnesota.
- Harlan Cleveland, former Ambassador to NATO under President Johnson.
- Norma Rowe, Co-President of the United Nations Association of Minnesota.
- Dean Zimmermann, Minneapolis City Council.
- Rebecca Yanisch, former Minnesota Commissioner of Trade and Economic
- Kathleen Laurila, Vice President for the International Federation of
- David Weissbrodt, Fredrikson and Byron Professor of Law.
- Don Fraser, former U.S. Congressman from Minnesota.
- . Arvonne Fraser, former U.S. representative to the U.N. Commission on the
Status of Women.
Titles are for identification purposes only.
Organizations that have signed onto the letter include: Lake Superior Area Veterans for Peace Chapter 80, EAGLE (Environmental Association for Great Lakes Education), Words Into Focus, Minnesotans for Peace and Social Justice, Minnesota Veterans for Peace Chapter 27, Executive Committee of Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers, Twin Cities Peace Campaign - Focus on Iraq, Minnesota Veterans for Peace Chapter 115, The Brainard Friends/Quakers Meeting, and Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
The UN Oil-for-Food Program was set up in 1996 to allow the Iraqi government to sell oil to pay for food, infrastructure, medicine and humanitarian goods. The program was necessary because UN sanctions instituted in 1990, in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, had resulted in massive malnutrition and increased infant mortality rates. It was recognized at the time that because the program went through Saddam Hussein, there would likely be fraud and other problems, but it was determined that the humanitarian need was too important. Under the program, millions of Iraqis were fed, child malnutrition and mortality went down, and access to electricity and clean water increased.
Problems within the Oil-for-Food program first surfaced in 2000. It became public that contracts to purchase Iraqi oil included kickbacks to Saddam. In addition, several countries including Turkey, Jordan and Syria were purchasing oil outside of the program. Each oil contract through the program required the approval of the UN Security Council, including the U.S.. On at least 70 occasions, Security Council members were informed by UN staff about problems with the contracts, but the U.S. never blocked a single contract.
Last year, Kofi Annan appointed Paul Volcker, former Fed Chairman, to head up an investigation by an independent panel of the problems with the program. Volcker will release the first phase of his findings in January. Volcker has access to internal UN documents, records, and personnel that Coleman does not.
"We acknowledge the need for greater accountability of this program," the letter writes. "When all the facts are in, we can then go about establishing an efficient and transparent procedure that will strengthen the UN in the future."
The full letter to Coleman can be read at: www.iatp.org.
For additional comment, contact:
David Weissbrodt, Fredrikson and Byron Professor of Law, 612-625-5027.
Don Fraser, former U.S. Congressman from Minnesota, 612-379-9451.
Stuart Ackman, boardmember of the United Nations Association of Minnesota
and the UNA-USA, 612-280-2325.
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