Monday, May 7, 2001

U.S. ousted from
human rights panel

The issue: The United States
loses its seat on a key United
Nations' human rights panel.

The ouster of the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Commission does not mean it will no longer be influential in addressing human rights issues. The vote reflects increasing irritation with some U.S. policies and serves notice that America cannot continue to assume it will hold its top positions in the world organization.

The vote, which stunned President Bush's administration, removed the United States from a seat it had held since the commission's founding in 1947. The loss dilutes American's role as an advocate of human rights and cannot go uncorrected. It also dilutes the U.N.'s standing as a protector of human rights. In sum, everyone lost on this vote.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer reflected the administration's dismay: "A commission that purports to speak out on behalf of human rights, that now has Sudan and Libya as members, and doesn't have the United States as a member, I think may not be perceived as the most powerful advocate of human rights in the world."

The adverse vote came in part because of President Bush's tardiness in sending his nominee for U.N. ambassador to the Senate for confirmation. Not having an ambassador presented a perception of inattention about the organization, according to Kishore Mahbubani, Singapore's U.N. ambassador.

Other diplomats contended that the ouster was a reaction to other Bush positions: Pulling out of the 1997 Kyoto treaty intended to curb global warming, slighting the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty, America's coolness toward establishing an international criminal court, and a refusal to push for cheaper AIDS drugs in the Third World.

Another contentious point is Congress, where critics of the U.N. have played down American involvement. The House of Representatives has tied up approval of funds to pay a $580 million U.S. debt to the U.N. Dismissing the United States from the human rights commission may harden congressional attitudes.

Ironically, several nations with abysmal records on human rights, including Algeria in addition to Libya and Sudan, have seats. This alarms human rights organizations and their allies, who note that the United States has long been a global leader in human rights issues. That may further erode support for the U.N. in the Congress.

Ambassador Jean-David Levitte of France, which is often ready to lecture the United States, suggests that America should stress cooperation instead of confrontation. Imagine, a diplomat from a nation that has confronted the United States repeatedly for half a century, pleading for cooperation.

The United States as an observer will still be able to sponsor resolutions and lobby for support in the United Nations. Even so, an adjustment to a new reality may be in order. Although the United States has been embarrassed, America should not retreat from its role as a champion of human rights.

Survey shows
discontent is high
among teachers

The issue: Shortages of
teachers likely to get worse
across the nation.

As the dust settles after the public school teachers' strike and the Legislature folds its tent, it would be easy to lose sight of the urgent task of improving education in Hawaii. Tomorrow being National Teacher Day, as declared by Congress in 1953, and this week being Teacher Appreciation Week, as designated by the National PTA, give heightened meaning to a fresh assessment from a University of Pennsylvania educator.

The report by Richard Ingersoll, once a high school teacher, shows that 20 percent of new teachers leave the job within three years of their hiring. In cities, that jumps to 50 percent in the first five years. Veteran teachers are also fleeing the classroom, about 6 percent a year, according to Ingersoll's study. More than 1 million teachers are nearing retirement age; the study estimates that 2 million new teachers will be needed in the next 10 years.

In Hawaii, 41 percent of the public school teachers are 48 years old or older and are eligible to retire at age 55 with 30 years of service, according to the Department of Education. Furthermore, the new law on health benefits for state employees may exacerbate the teaching shortage. Teachers already pay 40 percent of the cost of health-care plans, according to the Hawaii State Teachers Association, and some educators say if they have to pay more for less coverage, they may decide to retire and take other jobs.

The DOE recruits 1,300 to 1,400 new teachers every year to replace retirees, to fill new positions as teachers either leave the islands or the profession. That's 10 percent of state teaching positions. Officials in education, however, contend that the population of Hawaii's teachers has more stability than those figures represent. For example, 68 percent of teachers have taught at the same school for five or more years. The average public school teacher has more than 12 years of experience on the job.

The reasons Ingersoll gives for teachers leaving the profession are low pay, demands of disciplining students, lack of input in decisions made in schools and lack of support from administrators. If these sound familiar, they are issues raised by teachers during the strike. While the new HSTA contract provides better pay for teachers, more needs to be done to keep them from leaving the classroom.

The DOE says it is seeking ways to do that. We urge that it not be left, as so often in the past, with mere talk but that concrete actions be decided and taken. Meanwhile, in the spirit of this week's commemorations, let us honor the teachers, maybe not with an apple, perhaps with a mango or a pineapple.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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