China and Russia Move to Cut Human Rights Jobs in U.N. Peacekeeping

China and Russia, apparently seeking to exploit an American wish to lower spending at the United Nations, want to cut more than 200 jobs related to human rights and the prevention of sexual abuse in the organization’s peacekeeping missions, according to diplomats and budget-negotiation documents.

Human rights advocates said such cuts, if accepted, would severely hurt United Nations peacekeeping operations covering some of the world’s most vulnerable countries. Roughly 450 jobs are devoted to the protection of human rights and the deterrence of sexual abuse in the peacekeeping system, diplomats said.

The push by China and Russia comes at a time when the Trump administration is distancing itself in some ways from the United Nations — although the United States is still the host country and remains by far the biggest financial contributor. At the same time, China in particular is exerting more influence at the organization as its economic importance and contributions increase.

China and Russia have long complained about the human rights work of the United Nations, especially in its peacekeeping missions, which they see as falling outside the scope of what the blue-helmeted soldiers of troop-contributing countries should be doing.

But United Nations diplomats said both China and Russia seemed more aggressive this year about wanting to cut jobs they deemed to be wasteful or irrelevant.

The Russians are proposing reductions of up to 50 percent in funding for human rights work and the prevention of sexual abuse, which some diplomats have calculated would, if fully carried out, eliminate roughly 170 jobs. China has proposed cuts of about 37 jobs, including vacant positions that may be about to be filled.

The diplomats attributed the more aggressive stance by the Chinese and Russians partly to an intensified drive by the United States for budget austerity at the United Nations. Some are calling it a convergence of common purpose by rival powers that frequently clash over other issues.

Officials at the Chinese and Russian missions to the United Nations did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for the United States mission said it would not comment on the budget negotiations.

The United States historically has defended against attempts to undercut efforts to protect human rights at the United Nations, and has been one of the most outspoken proponents of combating the sexual exploitation and abuse that has scarred the reputations of some peacekeeping missions. Some diplomats said the Americans would never accept the draconian cuts proposed by China and Russia.

But the Trump administration has pulled back on America’s human rights role this year, as seen in its decision announced June 19 to quit the United Nations Human Rights Council over what American officials called that group’s anti-Israel bias and double standards. Frictions over the withdrawal were aggravated by bitter exchanges between Nikki R. Haley, the American ambassador, and human rights advocacy organizations, which called the administration’s decision a mistake.

The Chinese and Russian demands for human rights cuts in peacekeeping operations have further complicated what already is an annual ordeal by the United Nations budget committee, which in principle must reach a deal before the new fiscal year begins on Sunday.

Under the committee’s procedures, a deal is done by consensus — all members must agree, which often means a flurry of last-minute give-and-take.

Some diplomats said the negotiations were likely to go into Friday or possibly Saturday.

In her 18-month tenure, Ms. Haley has made budget cutting a priority. Last year she took credit for reductions of more than $500 million to achieve this year’s peacekeeping budget of $7.3 billion. Under a complicated formula, the United States contributes about 28 percent of the money.

Secretary General António Guterres — who also wants to see peacekeeping operations run more efficiently and for less money — has proposed a budget of $7.27 billion for the coming year. Diplomats said the Americans wanted to see a reduction of about $75 million from Mr. Guterres’s proposal.

It is far from clear that the Chinese and Russian demands for job cuts, which were first reported on Tuesday by Foreign Policy magazine, will yield anywhere near the 200-plus tally that some diplomats have calculated. Nor is it clear how much money such cuts might save.

But a confidential list of budget cuts proposed by committee members, seen by The New York Times, offers a glimpse of what China and Russia have in mind.

In the Central African Republic mission, for example, which has been rocked by sexual abuse scandals in recent years, Russia has proposed a 50 percent cut in activities aimed at combating such behavior and a 25 percent cut in activities related to human rights, the documents show.

For the mission in Mali, considered one of the most dangerous, the documents show China has proposed cutting eight posts related to human rights that have been vacant for at least nine months.

The documents show that for the mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, among the largest, China has proposed scrapping more than one dozen jobs, including unfilled postings, for human rights and gender affairs. Russia proposed a 50 percent cut in funding for the mission’s activities related to human rights.

Human rights advocates expressed worry that the United States, in the interest of saving money, would not block such cuts — or would compromise by relenting on at least some of them.

“The U.S. shouldn’t allow itself to become a silent partner of Russia and China in their crusade to dismantle the U.N.’s human rights infrastructure job by job, simply to be able to say it helped cut U.N. peacekeeping budgets,” said Louis Charbonneau, the United Nations director at Human Rights Watch.

“Budget reductions that eradicate large numbers of human rights posts will not make U.N. missions more effective,” he said, “but they will represent a major victory for Moscow and Beijing.”

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