Group of 77 could take defaulters
to World Court

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 11 (G-77) - The Group of 77 wants to go all the way to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague to challenge a U.S. move to impose conditions for the payment of its arrears to the United Nations.

The 132-member Group of 77 in New York-- along with its chapters in Geneva, Rome, Vienna, Nairobi, Paris and Washington-- has decided it should seek legal opinion from the ICJ on whether the U.S. decision is a violation of the U.N. charter.
Ambassador Daudi Mwakawago of Tanzania, chairman of the Group of 77 in New York, says that conditional payments are not acceptable to the majority of the member states in the 185-member world body.

''We are looking into the possibility of going before the World Court,'' he said.
Washington currently owes more than 1.3 billion dollars in arrears to the world body elevating it to the dubious position of the U.N.'s largest single debtor. But last month a bipartisan Congressional group approved a proposal to pay up about 819 million dollars of the long outstanding debt-- but only if the world body meets 38 conditions imposed by lawmakers.

The conditions include a unilateral demand for reductions in the U.S. rate of assessment, which would force the other member states to add a fifth of the U.S. share to their own U.N. assessments.

Currently, Washington pays 25 percent of the U.N.'s regular budget and 31 percent of the peacekeeping budget. But Congress wants this reduced to 20 percent and 25 percent respectively. However, instead of requesting the 185-member General Assembly to change this assessment rate, Congress wants to usurp the powers of the U.N.'s highest policy making body.

Mwakawago said that all seven chapters of the Group of 77 decided-- at a meeting in Geneva last week-- to consider tabling a resolution in the General Assembly seeking ''stiff penalties'' on those member states who withhold their dues for no justifiable reasons.

He said the Group was willing to ''recognise the need to extend sympathetic understanding to those countries that are temporarily unable to meet their financial obligations as a consequence of genuine economic difficulties.''

Currently, there are about 15 member states, mostly from poverty-stricken and war-torn African countries, who have lost their voting rights in the General Assembly because of their inability to pay their dues. But these are countries facing cash shortages and financial crises.

''In all other cases, we urge the members of the United Nations, in particular some of the major contributors, to exert every effort to pay all their dues unconditionally, in full and on time,'' he said.

The 15-member European Union (EU) too has called for severe penalties on countries like the U.S. for withholding payments to the world body on political grounds. One of the proposals is to refuse U.N. procurement contracts to any country owing money to the world body.

Washington, however, has been vigorously opposing the imposition of penalties because the U.S. is the largest single beneficiary of U.N. contracts now.

''In the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), if you do not pay your dues, you will not be given the right to speak,'' the Tanzanian envoy told IPS.

''Even in this country, if you don't obey the traffic lights, you pay a fine. If you break the law, you get penalised,'' he said.

Among developing nations, Singapore has been one of the strongest advocates of penalties for non-payment. Singaporean Ambassador Bilahari Kausikan said that in the U.S. even if you do not pay your credit card bills on time, the bank will penalise you. So why should there be exceptions at the United Nations, he asks.

Singapore's Foreign Minister S. Jayakumar told the General Assembly last year that there are various reasons why different member states have not yet their legal obligations.

''Some are poor. But no one has ever suggested that the largest debtor lacks the capacity to pay. Its argument is that its assessed contributions must be reduced because the state of its domestic political consensus does not permit it to sustain its current share of the U.N. budget,'' he said.

The EU has also proposed that countries owing money to the United Nations should be shut out of U.N. jobs.

In a set of wide-ranging proposals last year, the EU also proposed that defaulters be ineligible for elections in the General Assembly or the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Meanwhile, the EU has also proposed several ''positive financial incentives'' to reward members in good standing. One of the proposals calls for the creation of a mechanism of discount on contributions paid in advance or on time.

All troop contributing countries who have paid their dues should be reimbursed first, the EU says.

Calling for ''concrete measures'', the EU says that national parliaments and the public would never be able to understand that the world body was incapable of resolving its own financial crisis.

''A failure on our part would have serious consequences for the credit and image of our Organisation and its future''.