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Saturday, July 30, 2011

The United Nations Human Rights Council: Issues for Congress


Luisa Blanchfield
Specialist in International Relations

On March 15, 2006, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution replacing the Commission on Human Rights with a new Human Rights Council (the Council). The U.N. Secretariat and some governments, including the United States, viewed the establishment of the Council as a key component of comprehensive U.N. reform. The Council was designed to be an improvement over the Commission, which was widely criticized for the composition of its membership when perceived human rights abusers were elected as members. The General Assembly resolution creating the Council, among other things, increased the number of meetings per year and introduced a “universal periodic review” process to assess each member state’s fulfillment of its human rights obligations.

One hundred seventy countries voted in favor of the resolution to create the Council. The United States, under the George W. Bush Administration, was one of four countries to vote against the resolution. The Administration maintained that the Council structure was no better than the Commission and that it lacked mechanisms for maintaining credible membership. During the Council’s first two years, the Bush Administration expressed concern with the Council’s focus on Israel and lack of attention to other human rights situations. In April 2008, it announced that the United States would withhold a portion of its contributions to the 2008 U.N. regular budget equivalent to the U.S. share of the Human Rights Council budget. In June 2008, it further announced that the United States would engage with the Council “only in matters of deep national interest.”

In March 2009, the Barack Obama Administration announced that it would run for a seat on the Council. The United States was elected as a Council member by the U.N. General Assembly on May 12, 2009, and its term began on June 19, 2009. The Administration stated that it furthers the United States’ interest “if we are part of the conversation and present at the Council’s proceedings.” At the same time, however, it called the Council’s trajectory “disturbing,” particularly its “repeated and unbalanced” criticisms of Israel. On November 5, 2010, the United States underwent the Council’s universal periodic review process for the first time.

Since its establishment, the Council has held 17 regular sessions and 16 special sessions. The regular sessions addressed a combination of specific human rights abuses and procedural and structural issues. Six of the 16 special sessions addressed the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian territories and in Lebanon. Other special sessions focused on the human rights situations in Burma (Myanmar), Cote d’Ivoire, Darfur, Haiti, Libya, Sri Lanka, and Syria. The Council held a five-year review of its work in March 2011. Some participants—including the United States—felt the review did not sufficiently address the Council’s weaknesses, particularly its focus on Israel and lack of mechanisms for ensuring credible membership.

Congress maintains an ongoing interest in the credibility and effectiveness of the Council in the context of both human rights and broader U.N. reform. In the Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009 (Division H, the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2009, of P.L. 111-8), for example, it prohibited U.S. contributions to support the Council unless (1) the Secretary of State certifies to Congress that funding the Council is “in the national interest of the United States” or (2) the United States is a member of the Council. Withholding Council funds in this manner would be a largely symbolic policy action because assessed contributions finance the entire U.N. regular budget and not specific parts of it. More recently, in the Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2010 (Division F, the Department of State Foreign Operations, and Relations Appropriations Act, 2010, of P.L. 111-117), Congress required that the Secretary of State report to Congress on resolutions adopted by the Council.



Date of Report: July 18, 2011
Number of Pages: 30
Order Number: RL33608
Price: $29.95

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The UNESCO World Heritage Convention: Congressional Issues


Luisa Blanchfield
Specialist in International Relations

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (the World Heritage Convention) identifies and helps protect international sites of such exceptional ecological, scientific, or cultural importance that their preservation is considered a global responsibility. Under the Convention, which entered into force in 1975, participating countries nominate sites to be included on the World Heritage List and the List of World Heritage in Danger (Danger List). Countries that are party to the Convention agree to protect listed sites within their borders and refrain from actions that might harm such sites in other countries. Currently, the World Heritage List is composed of 936 natural and cultural sites in 153 countries, and the Danger List includes 35 sites from 28 countries. One hundred and eighty-seven countries, including the United States, are party to the Convention.

The Obama Administration has requested and provided voluntary contributions to the World Heritage Fund and generally supports U.S. participation in the Convention. The Department of the Interior National Park Service administers the U.S. World Heritage program, processing U.S. nominations and handling other daily program operations. It administers sites with funds appropriated by Congress, except for several sites that are owned by states, private foundations, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or Native American tribes. Twenty-one sites in the United States are currently included on the World Heritage List, including the Statue of Liberty and Yellowstone National Park. In July 2010, Papah
ānaumokuākea in Hawaii became the latest U.S. site to be added to the list. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced in June 2009 that the Obama Administration was taking steps to include Everglades National Park on the Danger List. The site was inscribed in July 2010. (The George W. Bush Administration had removed the site from the Danger List in 2007, maintaining that the United States had made considerable progress in conserving the park.)

Members of Congress have generally supported the World Heritage Convention. The Senate unanimously provided advice and consent to ratification of the Convention in 1973, and some Members have supported the inclusion of sites on the World Heritage List or Danger List. In the mid-1990s, some Members expressed concern that designating U.S. lands and monuments as World Heritage sites would infringe on national sovereignty. Ultimately, however, U.S. participation in the Convention does not give UNESCO or the United Nations authority over U.S. World Heritage sites or related land-management decisions. In addition, some Members have expressed concern with what they view as the limited role of Congress in nominating U.S. World Heritage Sites. Under current law, Congress is involved in the nomination of U.S. sites only to the extent that the Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks is required to notify the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Senate Committee on Energy and National Resources regarding which sites he or she plans to nominate for inclusion on the World Heritage List.

This report provides background information on the World Heritage Convention, outlines U.S. participation and funding, and highlights criteria for adding and removing sites from the World Heritage Lists. It discusses possible issues for the 112
th Congress, including the Convention’s possible impact on U.S. sovereignty, the role of the legislative branch in designating sites, and the potential implications for a site’s inclusion on the Lists.


Date of Report: July 20, 2011
Number of Pages: 20
Order Number: R40164
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

International Family Planning Programs: Issues for Congress

Luisa Blanchfield
Specialist in International Relations

Since 1965, the U.S. government has supported international family planning activities based on principles of voluntarism and informed choice that gives participants access to services and information on a broad range of family planning methods. U.S. family planning policy and abortion restrictions have generated contentious debate for over three decades, resulting in frequent clarification and modification of U.S. international family planning programs. Given the divisive nature of this debate, U.S. funding of these programs will likely remain a point of contention during the 112th Congress.

In 1984, controversy arose over U.S. family planning assistance when the Ronald Reagan Administration introduced restrictions that became known as the “Mexico City policy.” The Mexico City policy required foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to certify that they would not perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning—even if the activities were undertaken with non-U.S. funds. Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush also suspended grants to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) due to evidence of coercive family planning practices in China, citing violations of the “Kemp-Kasten” amendment, which bans U.S. assistance to organizations that, as determined by the President, support or participate in the management of coercive family planning programs.

President Clinton resumed UNFPA funding and rescinded the Mexico City policy in 1993. In 2001, however, President George W. Bush reapplied the Mexico City policy restrictions. The Bush Administration also suspended U.S. contributions to UNFPA from FY2002 to FY2008 following a State Department investigation of family planning programs in China. In January 2009, President Obama issued a memorandum rescinding the Mexico City policy. The President also stated that the United States would resume U.S. contributions to UNFPA.

Recent international family planning-related appropriations and Obama Administration requests are outlined below. 

  • FY2012—The Administration has requested a total of $769.105 million for bilateral and multilateral family planning and reproductive health assistance, including $47.5 million for UNFPA. 
  • FY2011—FY2011 appropriations for international family planning and reproductive health are included in the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011 (P.L. 112-10), which directs that not less that $575 million should be made available for international family planning and reproductive health activities. It also allocates $40 million for UNFPA. 
  • FY2010—In December 2009, President Obama signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010 (P.L. 111-117). Division F of that bill, the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2010, directs that not less than $648.457 million should be made available for international family planning and reproductive health activities. Of this amount, $55 million shall be made available for UNFPA. 
For further discussion of abortion and family planning-related restrictions in U.S. legislation and policy, see CRS Report R41360, Abortion and Family Planning-Related Provisions in U.S. Foreign Assistance Legislation and Policy, by Luisa Blanchfield, and CRS Report RL33467, Abortion: Judicial History and Legislative Response, by Jon O. Shimabukuro.


Date of Report: July 14, 2011
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: RL33250
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Child Well-Being and Noncustodial Fathers


Carmen Solomon-Fears
Specialist in Social Policy

Gene Falk
Specialist in Social Policy

Adrienne L. Fernandes-Alcantara
Specialist in Social Policy


The structure of a family plays an important role in children’s well-being. A contributing factor to the high rates of child poverty over the long-term, and the increase in child poverty during the period from 2001-2007, was the increasing likelihood of children living in families headed by a single female. In 2009, about one-third of all children lived in families without their biological father present. According to some estimates, about 50% of children (who are currently under age 18) will spend or have spent a significant portion of their childhood in a home without their biological father.

In 2009, the poverty rate for children living in female-headed families (usually headed by a single mother) was 44%, compared to 11% for children living in married-couple families. Policies enacted in the mid-1990s focused on moving single mothers from the welfare rolls to work; with these policies in place and the economic expansion of the late 1990s, child poverty rates fell. However, these gains in the economic well-being of children were limited and temporary, as child poverty increased again in the 2000s, even before the onset of the recession that spanned from December 2007 to June 2009.

An option to improve the well-being of children living in single-mother families is to seek greater financial and social contributions from fathers, particularly noncustodial fathers. However, the ability of noncustodial fathers to support their children has been complicated by certain economic and social trends. Over the past three decades, changes in the labor market have led to less employment and lower typical wages for men. The wages of men with lower levels of educational attainment have fallen since the mid-1970s. Criminal justice policies have changed, leading to increases in the rate of incarceration of men. These trends, while affecting all racial and ethnic groups, had a disproportionate impact on African American men. The most recent recession has hit men’s employment hard; and it has hit employment of young, African American men particularly hard.

Although social science research and analysis acknowledge a father’s influence on the overall well-being of his children, federal welfare programs have to a large extent minimized or underplayed the role of fathers in the lives of children. Noncustodial fathers and other men are largely invisible to these programs as clients or recipients. They become visible only in their role as family income producers (e.g., payers of child support). Other federal programs and/or systems that have included many men on their rolls (such as employment and training programs and the criminal justice system) have not fully addressed the unique needs and circumstances of fathers, particularly those who do not have custody of their children.

Social policy programs could be used to help noncustodial parents stay connected to their children and thereby improve the well-being of their children. Potential policy options include establishing an Innovation Fund that provides services to both noncustodial and custodial parents; examining strategies for reducing child support arrearages; changing the financing structure of Child Support Enforcement (CSE) access and visitation programs for noncustodial parents; modifying the earned income tax credit (EITC) to make noncustodial parents eligible; enhancing or expanding job training and education programs to assist low-income men and youth, which in turn can help them in providing for their (current or future) families; and redefining eligibility for certain programs so that disadvantaged young adults can receive more holistic training and other services that can better prepare them for adulthood.



Date of Report: June 20, 2011
Number of Pages: 72
Order Number: R41431
Price: $29.95

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Vulnerable Youth: Background and Policies


Adrienne L. Fernandes-Alcantara
Specialist in Social Policy

The majority of young people in the United States grow up healthy and safe in their communities. Most of those of school age live with parents who provide for their well-being, and they attend schools that prepare them for advanced education or vocational training and, ultimately, selfsufficiency. Many youth also receive assistance from their families during the transition to adulthood. During this period, young adults cycle between attending school, living independently, and staying with their families. On average, parents give their children an estimated $38,000, or about $2,200 a year, while they are between the ages of 18 and 34 to supplement wages, pay for college tuition, and assist with down payments on a house, among other types of financial help. Even with this assistance, the current move from adolescence to adulthood has become longer and increasingly complex.

For vulnerable (or “at-risk”) youth populations, the transition to adulthood is further complicated by a number of challenges, including family conflict or abandonment and obstacles to securing employment that provides adequate wages and health insurance. These youth may be prone to outcomes that have negative consequences for their future development as responsible, selfsufficient adults. Risk outcomes include teenage parenthood; homelessness; drug abuse; delinquency; physical and sexual abuse; and school dropout. Detachment from the labor market and school—or disconnectedness—may be the single strongest indicator that the transition to adulthood has not been made successfully.

The federal government has not adopted a single overarching federal policy or legislative vehicle that addresses the challenges vulnerable youth experience in adolescence or while making the transition to adulthood. Rather, federal youth policy today has evolved from multiple programs established in the early 20
th century and expanded in the years following the 1964 announcement of the War on Poverty. These programs are concentrated in six areas: workforce development, education, juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, social services, public health, and national and community service. They are intended to provide vulnerable youth with opportunities to develop skills to assist them in adulthood.

Despite the range of federal services and activities to assist disadvantaged youth, many of these programs have not developed into a coherent system of support. This is due in part to the administration of programs within several agencies and the lack of mechanisms to coordinate their activities. In response to concerns about the complex federal structure developed to assist vulnerable youth, Congress passed the Tom Osborne Federal Youth Coordination Act (P.L. 109- 365) in 2006. Though activities under the act were never funded, the Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs was formed in 2008 under Executive Order 13459 to carry out coordinating activities across multiple agencies that oversee youth programs. Separately, Congress has considered other legislation (the Younger Americans Act of 2000 and the Youth Community Development Block Grant of 1995) to improve the delivery of services to vulnerable youth and provide opportunities to these youth through policies with a “positive youth development” focus.



Date of Report: June 22, 2011
Number of Pages: 69
Order Number: RL33975
Price: $29.95

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